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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

World Islamic Leaders Call For Climate Action

Air Date: Week of

The International Climate Change Symposium took place on August 17-18, 2015. In attendance were several Grand Muftis, Islamic leaders, scholars, scientists and climate activists. They they drafted and announced the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change. (Photo: Islamic Relief)

Muslim political leaders, scholars and scientists from 20 countries have issued an “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.” Climate Action Network International Director, Wael Hmaidan, tells host Steve Curwood from Istanbul that Islam teaches that it’s a sin to ignore climate change, and the declaration calls on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to act on global warming as a duty, and challenges other peoples and faiths to top these actions.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston and PRI, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. A coalition of 80 leading Islamic clerics, scholars and officials meeting in Istanbul has issued a declaration on climate change, “calling on all nations and peoples to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. Concern about global warming has been building in the Muslim world ahead of the UN summit, and some Saudi clerics have issued a fatwa ordering climate protection, though it’s received little notice compared with the recent encyclical from Pope Francis. Of course the Pope leads 1.2 billion Roman Catholics while there is no central leader to speak for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. But Islamic nations, including wealthy oil-producing states, are taking action on global warming, says Wael Hmaidan. He’s director of Climate Action Network International, one of the conference organizers and joins us now from Istanbul. Welcome to Living on Earth.

HMAIDAN: Thank you. Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: Talk to me a bit about the Islamic religion and what the literature and tradition say about protecting nature and the planet and so on.

HMAIDAN: Well, I was born Muslim, but I am not a practicing Muslim, but I learned a lot in the past two days from the conference and I was really happily surprised by how rigorous the Koran and the Islamic teachings on the environment and the care for the planet. It's a core function of Islam to care for the planet. It's a responsibility; if you don't act on climate change, it's actually a sin, a haram, which means you get punished. It’s surprising; it talks about the delicate balance that all the creatures have on Earth and it's the responsibility of humans to protect this balance. It also talks actually about how humankind should not think that they are more important than other creatures. It talks about the role of all creatures and the need of respect, this diversity in the planet. So all of these kinds of proverbs from the Koran and the Islamic teachings, as well as stories about Prophet Mohammed's life and his care for the environment clearly puts environmental care and climate change key issue for an Islamic teaching and hearing strong statements saying that it is forbidden not to phase out greenhouse gas emissions coming from Islamic scholars is something very inspiring even for climate activists.

CURWOOD: I have a copy of the Koran, the translation is the Yusuf Ali translation. The very first versus says "Glory to God most high full of grace and mercy. He created all, including man. To man he gave a special place in his creation, he honored man to be his agent and to that end, endowed him with understanding, purified his affections, and gave him spiritual insight so that man should understand nature, understand himself, and know God through his wondrous signs and glorify him in truth, reverence and unity." If you compare that to the beginning of the Bible, Genesis, some people translate that to mean that God gave man dominion over nature and all the creatures so there may be a race that's on here, Wael.

HMAIDAN: What's interesting in the declaration -- they call for a race, and they welcome the race, and I'm happily surprised by this knowledge where they ask, they challenge everyone to exceed them and be more ambitious on climate change, inviting all faiths to join in the fight and so on.

CURWOOD: Let's talk in detail about climate change the declaration that was developed in the symposium. Outline for me the actions and goals it has set and what kind of language was used to express these.

HMAIDAN: So, in terms of goals and numbers I think we don't have any document that is asking here as this document what needs to happen. They clearly talk about phasing out fossil fuels. They clearly say that rich countries, that all rich countries need to phase out their fuel emissions not later than the middle of the century. It clearly calls on all nations to go 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible. It also calls on keeping two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It also has a request to businesses and the private sector needing to go 100 percent renewable energy as well as all Islamic organizations and communities and they have a long list of these communities from Islamic universities to mosques, to organizations and so on to take strong action on climate change and start changing their behavior.

CURWOOD: The declaration directly acknowledges that climate change is going on and it's happening at a faster rate than ever before, much of which is due to the human action. It presents evidence for this. So please tell us about those acknowledgments and how they'll affect the Muslim communities response to climate change in your view?

HMAIDAN: So we've never had a skeptics community in the Islamic world, from all the Islamic countries really no one stood up and that climate change is not happening. Islam leaves science to scientists and we hear what scientists said and that there's a consensus on the science of climate change and that's what the situation is.

CURWOOD: So, many of the oil-rich nations are, of course, Islamic nations. This declaration is asking them to go out of business, it sounds like.

HMAIDAN: Some people might see it like that, but for the participants, it is not. For the participants, it's duty to do it and it's not challenging them or confronting them. They looked at it apolitically as faith individuals and faith organizations. They looked at the issue morally, and what needs to be done. So the numbers they put is what needs to happen, and we have no choice, otherwise we lose our economies as well, because climate change can lead to the collapse of human economy.

Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide and one of the Symposium organizers addresses attendees. (Photo: Islamic Relief)

CURWOOD: So, historically, Saudi Arabia has been seen as oppositional, particularly in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science group looking at this, and sometimes at the UNFCCC meetings, the big climate negotiations as well. What representation from Saudi Arabia did you have at this meeting and what do you think the Saudi response is going to be?

HMAIDAN: So, we had three individuals from Saudi Arabia, from different sectors, so they were very strong on the need to act on climate change and, yes, Saudi Arabia has sort of been very obstructive in the negotiations. There has been a lot of changes though in the past few years. We can see them putting a very ambitious solar target. We can see them preparing a new commitment for the Paris agreement. Many statements by the royal family talks about the end of the age of fossil fuels and the new energy, and we know that we cannot rely on fossil fuels forever for our economic development. We can see that even the idea of keeping fossil fuel costs so low which is keeping a lot of new fossil fuel resources out of touch because they're not economical any more like the Arctic fossil fuel reserves, the deep sea oil and many others. So, I don't think they've done this action because they want to reduce climate change, but we can build an argument with them on the importance of strong climate action because it has economical benefit for them and it can help them and their diversification mission.

CURWOOD: So, let me see if I hear what you're saying: on one hand you're saying that it may be an unintended consequence but as Saudi Arabia keeps pumping oil at a relatively low-cost, this is keeping stuff like tar sands and deep sea oil from being developed which is good for the planet, and on the other hand are you also saying that they might be willing to turn the immense wealth that they have today, use that capital to build the new businesses before they are put out of business of fossil fuels?

HMAIDAN: Yes, and their role as obstructionist can change, and I see them changing a lot over the past three, four years. If you listen now to Saudi Arabia and compare it to what they said before Copenhagen, it's 180 degrees different.

CURWOOD: Give us a bit of a roadmap on the diversity in Islam on this issue. What faultlines, if any, are there in the question of climate with the different sects, the different points of view in Islam?

HMAIDAN: The faultlines are not between the sects, but between the rich and poor Islamic countries. So you have Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates...rich Islamic countries. While on the other hand you have Bangladesh, Indonesia, Maldives and others who are poor countries and suffering greatly from climate change, all of them. So what's good about this Islamic declaration, it gives an opportunity for Islamic countries to discuss and find a compromise among themselves, and I think it's easier to reach a solution because at the moment the discussion between these countries is happening in the UNFCCC. So I think this could be a way to make some difficultt countries accept climate action even more.

CURWOOD: Let's go to politics for a moment here or international negotiations. Now, this declaration also points to the fact that previous climate agreements have not been ratified on a wide enough scale to make a major difference. How do you think this affects climate action perceptions in the Muslim world leading up to this big set of negotiations in Paria later this year?

HMAIDAN: So, yes, it does build expectation from Paris, the declaration. It does target the international climate negotiations directly, saying that we need to achieve a breakthrough in Paris and not to repeat what happened in the past opportunities. And the good thing about what has happened here in the two days is that they didn't just aim to produce a declaration and that's it, but their plan is to take this declaration and go to governments, go to Muslim communities, go to UN agencies to talk about it and engage these governments in the declaration and they want to do it before Paris because they want to have it impacting Paris.

CURWOOD: So what happens next now after the symposium? Is there some kind of organization that is created? What keeps things moving forward?

HMAIDAN: There's an agreement to establish an informal group like a network. My understanding that the name that was adopted is Muslims for Climate. That will follow up on all the ideas that came out from the conference. And the ideas are varied, some of them are high-level like I mentioned going to the UN agencies, to governments, but also the representatives of the organizations that attended want to create action plans in their communities of influence, to bring the declaration and a lot of ideas came forward. Someone said that we need to have a copy of the declaration in every mosque hanging on the wall for people to read, others are talking about having fatwas and khutbahs about climate change which is like the weekly talks in every mosque. We need to transform all mosques to renewable energy, and so on, so a lot of ideas, and they've created this platform Muslims for Climate to continue the dialogue and implement all these ideas that came up.

CURWOOD: Wael Hmaidan is Director of Climate Action Network International. He joined us on the line from Istanbul, Turkey. Thank you so much for taking time with us today.

HMAIDAN: Thank you.



Read the Declaration here

International Islamic Climate Change Symposium

‘Green Muslims,’ Eco-Islam and Evolving Climate Change Consciousness

Hunger Strike for Climate Action

Human Rights on the UN Climate Change Agenda

More about Wael Hmaidan and Climate Action Network International


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