Baha'i Activities

Ethical and spiritual dimensions of sustainable development stressed by Baha'is at Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG - Representatives of the worldwide Bahá'í community were active in virtually all venues of the Johannesburg Summit, from the inter-governmental sessions at Sandton Center to informal workshops at the Civil Society Forum. But their message was nevertheless quite focused: recognize and incorporate the moral, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of sustainable development.

In particular, the centerpiece of Bahá'í efforts at the Summit surrounded the presentation of a statement, prepared by the Bahá'í International Community, entitled "Religion and Development at the Crossroads: Convergence or Divergence?" [See page 2 for an edited version of the statement.]

"The statement raises a bold and challenging call to the UN and to the leaders of the world's religions," said Peter Adriance, the lead representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the Summit. "It asks the UN to more fully recognize the key role religion must play in the quest for sustainable development, and it calls on religious leaders to reject all forms of religious fanaticism as impediments to development and peace."

Some 30 representatives of six Bahá'í and Bahá'í-inspired organizations were accredited to the Summit. In addition to the Bahá'í International Community (an international non-governmental organization in consultative status with ECOSOC), representatives of the Bahá'í communities of Brazil, Canada, and South Africa sent delegates to the Summit. Two Bahá'í-inspired organizations, the European Bahá'í Business Forum (EBBF) and the International Environment Forum (IEF), were also accredited; the EBBF as a non-governmental organization and the IEF as a scientific organization.

Both the EBBF and IEF made particular contributions to the discussion on ethics and spirituality at the Summit, said Mr. Adriance. Each presented workshops and panel discussions on topics related to sustainable development and ethics at the Civil Society Forum and in side events near the Sandton Center. Workshop topics included Indicators for Sustainability, Integrating Science in Local Communities, Emerging Values for a Global Economy, and Value-Based Education for Sustainable Development. The IEF's workshop on Indicators for Sustainability was attended by more than 100 people.

The Bahá'í International Community and the Bahá'í Community of South Africa also created two exhibits, one for the Ubuntu Village and the other for the NGO Forum, which highlighted the Bahá'í approach to development, showcasing projects that reflect values and principles at "the heart of development," such as trustworthiness, the equality of women and men, and justice.

Mr. Adriance said the Bahá'í message about ethics and spirituality was well received.

"The ethical dimension of sustainable development was discussed at significant length by a wide range of participants," said Mr. Adriance, who was present not only in Rio de Janeiro for the 1992 Earth Summit but was also at the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen and the 1996 Habitat II Summit in Istanbul. "It was acknowledged by heads of states in their speeches and discussed in a great number of workshops. The Earth Charter, which stresses the importance of values and ethics, was prominently featured in a number of venues and became a focal point for quite a bit of this discussion."

As well, Mr. Adriance said, many of the commitments made in the Plan of Implementation seek to address basic issues of justice and morality. "The documents could have been much stronger in this regard," said Mr. Adriance, "but we can take some satisfaction that ethical issues were discussed at the Summit, by many people, at all levels, who acknowledged their importance."