The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is looking forward to working with the faith communities in Africa on environmental issues, retired South African Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Davies said.

The cleric’s comments follow faith groups' interaction with the agency June 7-8 June at its headquarters here during preparatory meeting for the 17th Conference of Parties (COP-17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Durban, South Africa in November.

“UNEP said to us ... that they hoped they could work with faith communities in the future, not only in preparation for COP-17, but for Rio+20 (the United Nations conference on sustainable development to be held in Rio de Janeiro) in 2012 where the U.N. Conventions on Biodiversity and Desertification will be raised in addition to climate change,” Davies told ENInews.

UNEP, which coordinates the United Nations’ environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound practices, was founded in 1972.

Davies is executive director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute (SAFCEI), an organization based in Cape Town, South Africa that unites the faiths through a commitment to earth-keeping and supports their fulfillment of environmental and socio-economic responsibility.

At the moment, according to Davies, the organization is bridging the divide between different world faiths, and the divide that has existed between faiths and environmentalists.

He said there was a need for a new direction in governance, a “new green deal” (programs to restore natural systems) for economics, as well as a focus on water, energy and provision of enough food for all.

“It is UNEP’s hope that the faith communities can actually provide inspiration and direction in these processes, which are not succeeding at present,” said Davies who initiated the faiths conference at UNEP, which called for binding targets and a renewed moral vision in the climate change negotiations.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, told delegates that it is vital that a spirit of cooperation, rather than competition, prevails in climate talks. “In the climate negotiations, the world’s people are being silenced by arguments, facts and figures that are disempowering ... You have immense power to bring back a sense of responsibility to these negotiations,” he said on June 7.