Just as scientists announced July was the hottest month in recorded history, and ahead of a major climate summit in Paris later this year, an international group of Islamic leaders on Tuesday released a public declaration calling on the religion's 1.6 billion followers to engage on the issue of global warming and take bold action to stem its worst impacts.
"What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?" —Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change
Released during an international symposium taking place in Istanbul, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is signed by 60 Muslim scholars and leaders of the faith who acknowledge that—despite the short-term economic benefits of oil, coal, and gas—humanity's use of fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming which increasingly threatens "a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans."
The declaration states there is deep irony that humanity's "unwise and short-sighted use of these resources is now resulting in the destruction of the very conditions that have made our life on earth possible."
"Our attitude to these gifts has been short-sighted, and we have abused them," it continues. "What will future generations say of us, who leave them a degraded planet as our legacy? How will we face our Lord and Creator?"
The declaration by the Muslim leaders follows the widely lauded encyclical released by Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, earlier this summer in which he called for a drastic transformation of the world's economies and energy systems in order to stave off the worst impacts of an increasingly hotter planet. Additionally, hundreds of Jewish Rabbis also released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis and dozens of other denominations and churches have joined the global movement to divest their financial holdings from the fossil fuel industry.
Fazlun Khalid, founder of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and a signatory to the declaration, said the unified statement "is the work of world renowned Islamic environmentalists" and that its goal is to trigger richer dialogue and further action. Khalid said he would be happy if other people adopt or improve upon the ideas contained within the document.
"Civil society is delighted by this powerful Climate Declaration coming from the Islamic community as it challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations, to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100% renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development around the world." —Wael Hmaidan, Climate Action Network
As with the papal encyclical, the Muslim scholars take special note of how global capitalism—namely the "relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption"—has fostered an energy paradigm that now threatens the sustainability of living systems and human society.
With a focus on the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP21) talks in Paris, the declaration urges leaders to forge an "equitable and binding" agreement and called on all nations to:
- Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
- Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;
- Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
- Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.
- Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
- Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.
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When it comes to wealthier nations and the oil-rich states of the world, the declaration called on them to specifically:
- Lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century;
- Provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as early as possible;
- Recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources;
- Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or, preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;
- Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.
- Invest in the creation of a green economy.
Additionally, focusing on the corporate sector and business interests who profit most from exploitative activities and the current burning of fossil fuels, the declaration argues those institutions to:
- Shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;
- In order to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities, commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible and shift investments into renewable energy;
- Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;
- Pay more heed to social and ecological responsibilities, particularly to the extent that they extract and utilize scarce resources;
- Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.
Such a rounded and full-throated declaration was met with applause by climate campaigners, anti-poverty advocates, and social justice voices from around the world.
"Muslim leaders single out wealthy nations and oil producing states to lead on a fossil fuel phase out and provide support to those less well off to curb emissions and adapt to a changing climate. They also call on big business to stop their relentless pursuit of growth, change their extractive models and provide greater benefits for people and the climate."
—Lies Craeynest, Oxfam International
"Today’s declaration is an unprecedented call by Muslim leaders to end the destruction of Earth’s resources," stated Lies Craeynest, the food and climate justice director for Oxfam International. "Muslim leaders single out wealthy nations and oil producing states to lead on a fossil fuel phase out and provide support to those less well off to curb emissions and adapt to a changing climate. They also call on big business to stop their relentless pursuit of growth, change their extractive models and provide greater benefits for people and the climate."
Referring to Pope Francis' earlier declaration, Craeynest acknowledged the vital importance of religious leaders taking such bold and powerful stances. "As leaders of the two largest global faiths express grave concern about our fragile climate, there is no justifiable way political leaders can put the interests of the fossil fuel industry above of the needs of people, particularly the poorest, and of our planet."
Wael Hmaidan, international director of the Climate Action Network, called the declaration a potential game changer and said, "Civil society is delighted by this powerful Climate Declaration coming from the Islamic community as it challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations, to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100% renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development around the world."
Celebrating the growing call among faith communities and religious scholars for bold climate action, Hoda Baraka, the global communications director for the climate action group 350.org, said the Islamic declaration reveals the important ways in which international consensus is solidifying across cultures. "With the end of the fossil fuel era approaching," declared Baraka, "we have a moral responsibility to expedite the transition to clean energy protecting those most impacted from the climate crisis. The declaration’s call for divestment reinforces the moral impetus behind the fast-growing movement to divest from fossil fuels and helps expand its reach in faith communities around the world."
Speaking for the UN climate body, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres also welcomed the declaration.
"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," Figueres said. "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."