Islamic scholars from around the world have endorsed a declaration calling on nations to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and switch to 100% renewable energy.
The Islamic Declaration on Climate Change will be seen as the religion’s major contribution ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris this December.
Released during a two-day symposium on Islam and climate change in Istanbul, the declaration lays out why Muslims should be concerned about the planet, and sets out a series of demands to world leaders and the business community.
It is the second major intervention to have emerged from the faith community this year, after Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change and the environment in June.
Writing the declaration
The process of drafting the declaration began around six months ago. A team of five Islamic scholars were involved in crafting the initial document.
These were Ibrahim Ozdemir (professor of philosophy and founding president of Gazikent University), Azizan Baharuddin (a professor at the University of Malaya), Othman Llewellyn (environmental planner at the Saudi Wildlife Authority), Fazlun Khalid (founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science) and Fachruddin Mangunjaya (vice chairman of Center for Islamic Studies at the Universitas Nasional in Jakarta).
Abdelmajid Tribak, head of environmental programmes at ISESCO (the Islamic version of UNESCO), helped to convene environment ministers from around the Muslim world.
Other Muslim scholars were then invited to give their input to the draft, which went through around eight or nine incarnations before it was presented to 60 participants at this week’s symposium, where it was fine-tuned and finalised during a late-night session in Istanbul, says Khalid.
The declaration calls on four separate groups with a series of demands for tackling climate change.
First, it calls on the policy makers responsible for crafting the UN’s climate change agreement this December to come to “an equitable and binding conclusion”. Specifically, the deal should set clear targets and establish ways to monitor them, says the declaration.
It calls on well-off nations and oil-producing states to phase out their emissions no later than the middle of the century, turn away from “unethical profit from the environment” and invest in a green economy.
It calls on people and leaders from all nations to commit to 100% renewable energy and a zero emissions strategy as soon as possible, and to recognise that unlimited economic growth is not a viable option. It adds that adaptation should also be prioritised, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.
And finally it calls on the business sector, which it says should take a more active role to reduce their carbon footprint, also commit to 100% renewables and zero emissions, shift investments into renewable energy, adopt more sustainable business models and assist in the divestment from fossil fuels.
It finally issues a call to “all Muslims wherever they may be” – including the media, education, mosques and UN delegations.
The messages of the declaration are supported with quotes from the Qur’an. Care for the creation is a fundamental part of the Islamic message, it states, and humans are currently responsible for squandering gifts bestowed by Allah. It says:
“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost.”
Around 750 verses – one eighth of the book – reflect on natural phenomena, suggesting that the environment is central to Islamic thought. Furthermore, the declaration points to the example of the Prophet Muhammad, whom it says banned the felling of trees in the desert and established protected areas for the conservation of plants and wildlife.
Unlike the papal encyclical, the declaration does not have a formal standing within Islam, as there is no single clerical authority in the religion.
Instead, its standing depends on the standing of those who wrote and endorsed the document. The drafting committee is the “cream of the Islamic environmental movement”, Fazlun Khalid tells Carbon Brief. Four of the scholars were involved in the 1998 Harvard conference that spawned the book Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust, which delves into Muslim thinking on the environment.
The hope is that imams and clerics around the world can incorporate it into their services, reaching out to the 1.6 billion Muslim population around the world. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, who also participated in the conference, tells Carbon Brief:
“Even if we reach a fraction of them, that’s a significant number. In Islam, as a Muslim, I am supposed to interpret the Qur’an and behave according to its tenets myself – I don’t need a Pope to tell me what to do. And we hope this will open the eyes of Muslim individuals all over the world.
“Hopefully some of the leaders of Muslim countries will also bear this in mind and it will affect their policies with regards to fossil fuel investments and dependence.”
Many Islamic countries, such as in Bangladesh and across the north of Africa, are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. Others, such as Saudi Arabia, have economies that rely heavily on the production of fossil fuels, and have been accused of wielding a disruptive influence at the UN climate negotiations. Could the declaration have any impact on these leaders? Khalid tells Carbon Brief:
“We can only hope, and there is a lot of work to be done there. It has to be handled quite sensitively. Countries like Saudi Arabia don’t have a fall back position. We need to set in train a series of discussions of how they could cope with what we are proposing, so it’s not that easy.”
Like the Pope’s message to the Catholic Church, the Islamic Declaration keeps the world’s poorest at the heart of its message. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who drafted the first version of the encyclical, welcomed the intervention. He said:
“It is with great joy and in a spirit of solidarity that I express to you the promise of the Catholic Church to pray for the success of your initiative and her desire to work with you in the future to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us.”
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN’s climate body, also welcomed the declaration. She said:
“A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”
The Islamic world now has three months to digest the declaration, before all nations come together in Paris in December to reach a global agreement on climate change.
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