Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change—A Review: Another Major Religion Adds Its Voice To the Worldwide Conversation on the Need for a Solution
A review by Arthur Lyon Dahl
The Editors are happy to share with you Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl’s review of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, adopted on August 17–18, 2015, at an international Islamic Climate Change Symposium held in Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Dahl first published the review in the newsletter of the International Environmental Forum. We have made some revisions to the review. You may find it helpful to read this new Declaration together with the Bahá’í International Community statement Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change published by in 2008 and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: on care for our common home released in June 2015 (links to the three documents are in the footnotes; click here to read Dr. Dahl’s summary and review of the Pope’s encyclical). In the run-up to the November–December 2015 Paris Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is heartening to find major world religions putting their ethical and spiritual support behind an issue that affects all of us.—THE EDITORS
After drafting work by a group of leading academics and wide circulation for consultation, an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change (http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/) was adopted at an international Islamic Climate Change Symposium, held in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 17–18, 2015.1 The document is a significant addition to other religious declarations on this critical issue for the future of humanity, alongside those of the Bahá’í International Community’s statement in 2008 Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change2 and the Pope’s June 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: on care for our common home,3 among others.
The symposium brought together leading Muslim scholars, diplomats, and experts from across the Muslim world, as well as other leading experts from different faiths. One of the speakers at the Symposium was International Environmental Forum member Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.
The Islamic Declaration is divided into three parts: a preamble that sets the scientific context, a set of affirmations of principles based on Qur’anic texts, and calls addressed to particular groups to take up their responsibilities for responding to climate change.
The Preamble. The preamble starts by setting the Islamic context, acknowledging Allah (God) as the creator of the universe, and human responsibility to serve the Lord of all beings. It then summarizes in several paragraphs the current scientific understanding of climate change and its human causes, causes which are in contradiction with our responsibility to be the caretaker of the earth and to maintain its equilibrium. It lists various reasons for concern, including the risks to the poor and disadvantaged and risks of abrupt and irreversible changes. It notes with alarm that we are accelerating our own destruction and approaching the threshold for catastrophic climate change. It calls for a proactive approach to halt and hopefully reverse the damage being wrought. As with the Pope’s encyclical and long-standing Bahá’í principles, this section demonstrates the new convergence of science and religion on environmental issues.
Affirmations of Qur’anic Principles. The affirmations of Qur’anic principles bring out the spiritual foundations of the need to act on climate change. Allah is the Lord, Creator, and Sustainer of all beings, and He encompasses all of His creation. He created the Earth in a perfect equilibrium of natural resources and cycles in which all living beings thrive. Humans have corrupted the Earth in their pursuit of economic growth and consumption, causing climate change, pollution, soil erosion and deforestation, and damage to human health. Humans are exceptionally powerful, with a responsibility to establish good and to avert evil, with no right to oppress the rest of creation or to cause it harm. Our intelligence and conscience require us to treat all things with care, compassion, and utmost good. We are accountable for all our actions. The section concludes with our responsibility to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, Who protected the rights of all living beings, conserved water, established protected areas, lived a frugal life free of excess and ostentation, renewed and recycled his possessions, ate simple healthy food with little meat, and took delight in the created world.
Such themes are common to many religious traditions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, speaking at Stanford University in 1912, stated that “The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life”; then He asked, “Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?”4 He also wrote that “it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature.”5 He similarly set an example of a simple life.
Calls to Groups to Take Up Their Responsibilities for Climate Change. The third part of the Declaration issues calls to significant actors responsible for climate change. The Paris Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, November 30–December 11, 1015, should bring its discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, with the enormous responsibility to lead all of us to a new way of relating to God’s Earth. The well-off nations and oil-producing states should lead in phasing out greenhouse gas emissions to stay within a 2°C or preferably 1.5°C limit for global warming, leaving two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and investing in the creation of a green economy. They have a moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit, to preserve the environment rather than profiting unethically from it, and to elevate the condition of the world’s poor.
The Declaration makes a broad call to the people of all nations and their leaders to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and to commit to decentralized renewable energy. Economic growth should be pursued wisely and in moderation, with priority to adaptation and increasing resilience to climate-change impacts, especially for the most vulnerable. The Declaration calls for “a fresh model of wellbeing [sic], based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.” Corporations, finance, and the business sector should shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impacts, committing to and shifting investments into renewable energy while divesting from the fossil-fuel-driven economy. They should change from the current business model that is based on an unsustainable escalating economy and adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable and more socially and ecologically responsible. All groups are invited to join in collaboration, cooperation, and competition in good deeds, in particular welcoming the significant contributions of other faiths offering the best of their respective traditions, since all can be winners.
The final call is to all Muslims, with a long list from Heads of State to congregations and community activists, not to “strut arrogantly on the earth,” and to bear in mind the Hadith that “The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.”
Conclusion. Common themes among the three declarations from Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Bahá’ís are the link between poverty and climate change and the fact that these are both symptoms of an underlying spiritual illness, requiring a significant transformation in the materialistic economy. Such declarations have the potential to take their messages of planetary responsibility far beyond what scientific declarations or even government efforts can reach. Their acceptance of the scientific reality of climate change, combined with an ethical and spiritual message of responsibility to act, will reinforce efforts to make the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources. The fact that many oil-producing nations are dominantly Muslim and that the Islamic Declaration specifically targets these states and calls for the oil to be left in the ground should have particular impact in the years ahead. The opening to interfaith collaboration is also welcome in helping to counteract growing religious intolerance in many quarters.
The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change can be another important milestone in the necessary planetary mobilization to try to head off catastrophic climate change.
- Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, adopted by the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium, Istanbul, Turkey, August 17–18, 2015. http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/
- Bahá’í International Community, Seizing the Opportunity: Redefining the Challenge of Climate Change, statement presented at COP14, Poznan, Poland, 2008. https://www.bic.org/statements/seizing-opportunity-redefining-challenge-climate-change
- Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: on care for our common home, June 18, 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, talk at Leland Stanford Junior University, Palo Alto, California, October 8, 1912, in The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982) 350.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978) 138: 158.