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[CAIRO] The first Islamic declaration on global climate change was widely welcomed last week for framing the problem as a moral issue and trying to engage the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims in efforts to fight climate change.

But some climate experts from Muslim countries now say that such faith-based messages are unlikely to change national climate policies and may even stoke conflict between religions. 

The declaration, issued during the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Turkey last week (18 August), warns that there are “serious flaws in the way we have used natural resources”. “We recognize the corruption (fasād) that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption,” the statement says.

Quoting the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad, the declaration urges governments, corporations and “all Muslims wherever they may be” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, it asks the parties that will sit at the negotiating table at the UN’s December climate summit in Paris to reach an “equitable and binding conclusion”, and calls on well-off nations and oil-producing states to help poorer countries through “generous financial and technical support”.

“The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves”

Hadīth from Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudrī, Islamic Declaration on Climate Change

The grand mufti of Uganda, the nation’s religious leader, endorsed the declaration, along with other prominent Islamic scholars, policy makers and leaders of faith groups.

Several organisations have praised the declaration for sending the right message.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one,” said Tasneem Essop, from the global climate and energy initiative of the WWF, an international conservation body, in a statement last week. “Most religions view humans as the caretakers of the natural world. And in this spirit, taking care of the environment is a moral duty.” 

The Islamic declaration comes two months after another faith-based statement about climate change, Pope Francis’s 192-page letter to bishops, called an encyclical.

“As both faiths [Christianity and Islam] have a long tradition of caring for those in poverty it is right that they make tackling climate change a priority,” because global warming will hit the world’s poor hardest, said Mohamed Adow, senior climate change advisor of the charity Christian Aid, in a statement.

Hesham Eissa, head of the central department of climate change at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, sounds a note of caution. “Religions should not interfere into [climate change issues], or it may raise conflict” between different religions, or between believers and non-believers, Eissa tells SciDev.Net. He argues that the declaration is unlikely to change governments’ positions, and that there is no political entity representing all Muslim countries in international climate change talks.

Mona Samari, a Tunisian environmentalist and founder of the Tunisia Environment Reporting Network, agrees that governments base their decisions on political and economic concerns rather than on religion.

“When it comes down to international negotiations, and especially during closed-door negotiations, each state comes in representing its own national interest,” Samari says.