Buddhists Engaging at the UN: Environmental Policy Efforts

June, 21, 2023, 3:30- 4:30 pm, School 3, St Salvator’s Quadrangle
University of Saint Andrews, Scotland

The Temple of Understanding is pleased to offer this round table for the United Kingdom Association for Buddhist Studies annual conference, for this year’s theme, Negotiating Boundaries. The conference will explore perceived, constructed, contested and erected boundaries, and so is an opportunity to consider Buddhist values and efforts in the secular setting of the United Nations.

This round table discussion will lift up Buddhist engagement in UN policy efforts towards a sustainable climate and livable planet. Processes discussed will include the UNFCCC (climate COP- (conference of the parties)), the convention on biodiversity, the UN environmental program, and more as the UN ramps up through a particularly intense and pivotal year.  Religious NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) collaborate in these policy spaces, often as multi-faith or interfaith coalitions, offering values-based perspectives in the secular multilateral process. Hear from seasoned advocates from major engaged Buddhism organizations on outcomes to date, obstacles towards needed changes and full implementation, and how their Buddhist perspectives and practices inform, motivate, and sustain their work.

This discussion will welcome audience questions and participation, particularly from other Buddhists active in influencing the UN.

Speakers will include:

  • Rev Doyeon Park, Won Buddhism, (video) offering prayers during an interfaith parallel event to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
  • Dr. Alexandra Goossens-Ishii, policy lead for the Faiths at COP15 coalition and program coordinator for climate and environment advocacy for Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization.
  • Steve Chiu is Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Representative at the United Nations. In alignment with Tzu Chi’s work across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Steve seeks to connect the importance of grassroots action to policies that are being developed on the international level.
  • Grove Harris, event organizer and speaker, UN Representative and Director of Global Advocacy for the Temple of Understanding, one of the world’s oldest interfaith organizations.
  • Ivy Koek is a Representative of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations and Program Coordinator for Gender Equality. She has served on the NGO CSW/NY Executive Committee since 2014 and currently its Co-Chair.

The speakers are all seasoned professionals working in UN policy spaces; these links introduce their organizations and humanitarian work, so the one-hour round table can move directly to UN environmental efforts and strategy.

The Temple of Understanding

The Temple of Understanding (TOU) is one of the oldest interfaith organizations and is unique in being started by a woman, Juliet Hollister. As a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, the TOU has worked for peace and social justice. With a focus on environmental issues and the climate crisis, the TOU offers programming bridging divides between science, faith, advocacy, visionary insights, and pragmatic changes. Collaborations are essential, and the TOU works with many other NGOs, with the Women’s Major Group, the United Nations Environmental Program, and many more.

Tzu Chi Foundation

Tzu Chi Foundation was established in 1966 by Venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen on the poor east coast of Taiwan. Over the years, the foundation has been contributing to better social and community services, medical care, education, and humanism in Taiwan and around the world. From the first 30 members, housewives who saved two cents from their grocery money each day to help the poor, the foundation has volunteers in 50 countries, with 502 offices worldwide.

Master Cheng Yen firmly believes that suffering in this world is caused not only by material deprivation but, more importantly, also by spiritual poverty. She feels that the lack of altruistic love for others has been the root of many problems in this world. Thus, the foundation’s guiding principle on charity is to “help the poor and educate the rich.”

Tzu Chi’s missions focus on giving material aid to the needy and inspiring love and humanity to both givers and receivers. In addition to charity, the foundation dedicates itself in the fields of medicine, education, environmental protection, international relief work, and the establishment of a marrow donor registry. It also promotes humanistic values and community volunteerism. Through helping those in need, Tzu Chi volunteers take on the path of bodhisattva practices, the way to Buddhahood.


In 2022, Tzu Chi provided short-, medium-, and long-term assistance, free medical clinics, tuition aid, and other forms of assistance to the front lines of disasters and crises in 41 countries and regions, totaling more than 1.6 million services. In its relief work for refugees from the conflict in Ukraine alone, Tzu Chi partnered with eleven NGOs, providing care and shelter, daily necessities, cash, and gift cards, health services and medical care, medical supplies, language, and children’s education, psychological and legal consultations and individual financial subsidies. It benefited more than 710,000 people.


Soka Gakkai

The Soka Gakkai is a global, community-based Buddhist organization with a membership of over 12 million people around the world that promotes peace, culture, and education centered on respect for the dignity of life. The Soka Gakkai International (SGI), as a non-governmental organization, has been in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1983. The SGI Office for UN Affairs operates in New York and Geneva, representing the SGI at the UN.





Faith Voices for Ecocide Law: 

Won Buddhism


Won Buddhists have participated in and promoted local, national, regional, and international interreligious dialogue and cooperation since 1970. Interreligious understanding and cooperation are central teachings of Won Buddhism. Won Buddhism has been accredited by the Department of Public Information of the United Nations as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) since 1992. Won Buddhism is a founding member of KCRP (Korean Conference of Religions for Peace), and actively engages in WCRP (World Conference of Religions for Peace), WFB (World Fellowship of Buddhists), and ACRP (Asian Conference of Religions for Peace) and our representatives have served as co-presidents and staff. Won Buddhism is socially engaged in the fields of environment, education, social service, community service, human rights, women’s issues, and humanitarian assistance.


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