Religion and sustainable development

In 2015, the member states of the United Nations agreed on common global objectives for a sustainable development which they committed to reach by 2030. Now, an international conference at the Vatican dealt with the topic of which contribution religion can offer for a path to increased sustainability in the social, economic and ecological sector. A team of researchers from the KU and the Federation of German Scientists (VDW), headed by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Bartosch, also attended this conference. Representatives of all world religions as well as development experts, UN representatives and delegates of other international organizations from academia, the industry and politics were present at that conference together with representatives of indigenous groups. The team of researchers from KU and VDW engaged in dialog with renowned experts from the fields of natural sciences, humanities, social sciences and the civil society and investigated the potential of the well-known encyclical issued by Pope Francis for social change towards more sustainability in the context of their project “Laudato Si’ – Discourse on the papal encyclical for a great transformation”.

During an audience for the participants of the conference in the Sala Regia at the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke about the UN objectives for sustainable development as a major step towards engaging in global dialog which marked a vital “new and universal solidarity”. He emphasized that the challenges were manifold and complex and rooted in many different grounds, which required the answer to incorporate the different cultural backgrounds of the people. He warned that no discipline and no form of knowledge must be disregarded, which especially also included the different religions. Religions could be the key on our way to an “authentic integral development”, said Francis, which was supported by our deepest religious and ethical values and convictions. The Pope thanked all attendees for their endeavor to protect our “common home” and their commitment to create an inclusive, participatory and sustainable future.

“For me, the Sustainable Development Goals help us to re-focus on the process leading towards justice, peace and integrity of creation and bring it on the world stage in a reinforced context. Today, the Pope is the one who urgently appeals that ‘Time is scarce!’ - and he is heard! Scientific rationality and spiritual reason have to join forces to rise against the imminent danger of environmental destruction. It is about safeguarding a livable future on our planet”, this is how project head Prof. Dr. Ulrich Bartosch summarizes his impressions. The conference clearly showed that the aim of the Catholic church and other religions was to make an intensive contribution to the implementation of the 17 global objectives for sustainable development. The conference titled “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Listening to the cry of the earth and the poor“ was hosted by the Cardinal of the Roman Curia Peter Turkson in his function as prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development together with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Turkson emphasized that the SDGs served the protection of both the ecosystem and human dignity. The development goals were built on a moral awareness as an important factor besides technology, financial means and political decisions. 80 per cent of the world’s population identify with a religious group or confess their faith in a god or a higher being. This offers enormous potential for transformation – we must activate and involve the wisdom of religions, their spirituality, core values and traditions. The Director General of the Geneva UN Office and Under-Secretary of the United Nations, Michael Møller, expressed that the process involved more than just fulfilling material needs. The deeper and more holistic understanding of the SDGs was that every human being could lead a life with dignity and spiritual fulfillment.

At the conference, the Laudato Si’ team from KU and VDW was represented by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Bartosch, Christian Meier and Dr. Dr. Oliver Putz. They had lively discussions with representatives from the Vatican and other civil organizations. Amongst others, they talked about current activities at the KU with State Secretary Dr. Maria Flachsbarth from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation. “It became clear that the Laudato Si’ encyclical is referred to also, and especially, in the educational sector in many places all around the world as an offer for dialog and support – for example in Oxford, UK, or the Santa Clara University in the USA as well as in Northern and Eastern Europe”, explains project speaker Christian Meier.
The conference program and more detailed information is available online at For further information on the current research project of the KU/VDW team surrounding the encyclical, please visit