Islamic experts urge more Muslim action on climate change

Channel NewsAsia 18 Aug 15;

ISTANBUL: A group of Islamic experts urged the world's 1.6 billion Muslims on Tuesday to do more to fight global warming, in a new example of religious efforts to galvanise action before a U.N. climate summit in Paris in December.

In June, the world's most important Christian leader, Pope Francis, urged world leaders to hear "the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" in an encyclical on the environment for the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, Islam is a highly decentralised religion with no single recognised authority. But Muslim experts from 20 nations agreed an 8-page declaration at talks in Istanbul where it was adopted by 60 participants including the Grand Muftis of Uganda and Lebanon, a statement said.

"Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans," they wrote.

They said inaction on reining in manmade greenhouse gas emissions, from factories, power plants and cars, would mean "dire consequences to planet earth".

The declaration called on rich governments - and oil-producing states that include some OPEC nations where Islam is the state religion - to lead the way in "phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century."

It is unclear what weight the Islamic declaration will have for Muslims in the run-up to the climate summit in Paris from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

Din Syamsuddin, chairman of a Muslim organisation in Indonesia which has some 30 million members, welcomed Tuesday's declaration. "Let’s work together for a better world for our children, and our children’s children," he said.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, a key collaborator on the papal encyclical, praised the declaration and promised closer cooperation with Muslims "to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us."

Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said religion was a guide for action.

"Islam's teachings, which emphasise the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behaviour, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change," she said in a statement.

(Writing by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

- Reuters

Muslims to join in efforts on climate change
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 19 Aug 15;

Indonesia is set to play an important role in rallying Islamic communities in the battle against climate change as the country will be among those signing an “Islamic Climate Change Declaration” that is set to be launched during a symposium on Aug. 18 in Turkey, Istanbul.

Despite being one of the countries under serious threat from climate change due to its geography, the majority of people are still oblivious to the challenge, according to Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Din Syamsuddin, who will represent the country during the International Islamic Climate Change symposium from Aug. 17 to 18.

“We are very embarrassed that Islamic communities have not been progressive enough [in combating climate change],” he said over the weekend. “Seeing as how two-thirds of people in the world follow a religion, a religious approach is important [in tackling climate change],”

Therefore, the planned declaration will be an important intervention by religious leaders and will act as a crucial rallying call ahead of the United Nations [UN] climate change negotiations that are to be held in Paris in December.

“We will spread the word all around the world. I will declare it in Indonesia,” Din said.

The declaration will explain why climate change is the world’s most pressing challenge, and why 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe have a religious duty to play their part in tackling it and the manner in which they can fulfil this duty.

“Environmental sustainability and religions are closely linked, therefore religions through their followers have to take up the role and act on a global level to solve the problem,” Din said. “Indonesia as a Muslim-majority country could become a trendsetter. We will also launch a joint movement in line with government programs.”

Din has earlier said that Islam could be a religion of nature with some 750 out of around 6,000 verses in the Koran touching on nature, the environment and all of its inter-connectedness.

Despite being Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body, Din said that the MUI had limited capacity and thus needed help from all stakeholders in mobilizing Muslims.

“The state, the government and the UN need to improve the role of religious leaders in raising awareness of the need for collaboration because problems cannot be solved only by one party,” he said.

So far, the MUI has been trying to raise awareness on climate change by issuing a fatwa on environmental sustainability.

“The fatwa is about respecting the environment with an Islamic concept, such as planting trees, nurturing them as well as knowing how we should treat plants and animals,” Din said. “Our position as a religious organization is to raise awareness. If there’s a fatwa on conservation, then it should be included in preaching material. There are thousands of Islamic preachers. If they use their voices, this will be a massive public education campaign. If we’re using religion, then it will latch onto people’s minds,” said Din.

However, the fatwa so far has failed to resonate with Islamic preachers.

To prepare for the symposium, Din consulted with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar during a meeting on Saturday.

“I felt the need to explain to him [Din] the nature of what we are preparing and doing, as well as our vision,” Siti said.

Siti went on to say that the planned shift to renewable energy was a key focus of the government and that it would bring the campaign to the international community.

“We have stopped issuing new permits for coal mining [in forest areas],” Siti said. “The moratorium has been implemented although an official decree has not been issued.”

Din himself has been pushing for a complete shift to renewable energy by setting up a petition at that demands President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon set a renewable energy target of 100 percent by 2050.

Can Islamic scholars change thinking on climate change?
Declaration calls on Muslims to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Davide Castelvecchi, Quirin Schiermeier & Richard Hodson Nature 19 Aug 15;

Muslim scholars have called on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims to do more to phase out greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Fewer than four months before politicians gather in Paris to try to hammer out an international climate agreement, Islamic scholars have underscored the urgency of halting climate change.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, drawn up by a group of academics, Muslim scholars and international environment policy experts, was announced this week at a symposium on Islam and climate change in Istanbul. It calls on the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world to phase out greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels and switch instead to energy from renewable sources. Unlike Catholicism, for example, there is no central religious authority in Islam, but the declaration suggests Muslims have a religious duty to tackle climate change.

Nature explains the intent of the declaration and what it might achieve.

What does the statement say?

In a nutshell, it says that climate change resulting from fossil-fuel burning must urgently be halted, lest ecosystems and human civilization undergo severe disruptions.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost,” it reads. “Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah — gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans.”

Citing a 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it warns that components of Earth's system are at risk of experiencing abrupt and irreversible change.

The declaration also laments the slow progress of international climate-change negotiations: “It is alarming that in spite of all the warnings and predictions, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol which should have been in place by 2012, has been delayed. It is essential that all countries, especially the more developed nations, increase their efforts and adopt the pro-active approach needed to halt and hopefully eventually reverse the damage being wrought.”

How significant is this?
Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, is among the top ten carbon emitters if land-use change and forests are taken into account, according to the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in Washington DC. Most of the island nation's footprint comes from deforestation and the draining of carbon-rich peat bogs. India — which is not a Muslim country but has a large Muslim population — is also in the top ten emitters.

Although other Islamic countries, especially major fossil-fuel producers in the Persian Gulf, make small contributions in absolute terms, they have some of the highest per-capita emissions. These come from the intensive use of electric power for energy-intensive applications such as air conditioning and desalination.

Changes in these nations could be important on a global scale, says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and one of the authors of the declaration. Huq says “I do believe that our appeal will help reduce emissions”.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a Persian-born theologian at the George Washington University in Washington DC who has written on Islam’s teachings on the environment, thinks that the main value of the declaration will be to remind Muslims that “nature is not just a machine; it has a spiritual meaning”. But he’s sceptical that it will affect policies and says he is not sure it is going to change the minds in governments.

Is the Islamic world behind in addressing climate change?
Some oil-rich nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been reluctant in the past to restrict the recovery and use of fossil fuels. Their stance might prove a hurdle to the negotiations surrounding emission cuts in Paris in December.

But some predominately Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, are also threatened acutely by more-frequent periods of extreme heat and precipitation and by accelerating sea-level rise. Aware of these threats, Bangladesh has installed more than 3.5-million solar home systems in the country's rural areas. And Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has, in recent years, grown into a hot spot for solar research.

Where do other faiths stand on climate change?
The rallying cry to the Muslim community is not the only intervention by religious leaders in recent times. In June, Pope Francis issued a similar message to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, in the form of a 192-page letter to bishops, known as an encyclical. A day later, faith leaders in the United Kingdom issued an updated version of their Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change — the original was published in 2009.

The three declarations share many ideas, including acknowledgement that climate change currently being seen is human-induced and the call for rich nations to do more to support poorer countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of such change.

“All the faiths are talking about climate change,” says David Shreeve, environmental advisor to the Church of England’s Archbishop’s Council. “It's great that the Muslims are putting out a declaration, because whatever your faith, it’s a great opportunity for the faiths to stand up and say we really are concerned about this.”