How the Islamic world can transform the climate war

Countries signing up to commitments like the Paris climate accords should not be taken for granted that they are working closely together, sharing knowledge or resources.

By Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali

Published: Tue 25 May 2021, 12:47 AM

American President Biden’s Leaders’ Summit last month signalled a renewed commitment by world leaders to tackle the looming danger of climate change. Left unaddressed, it could tip the world past the point of no return.

And though the world has moved to act – that does not mean nations are coordinating as they should. Countries signing up to commitments like the Paris climate accords should not be taken for granted that they are working closely together, sharing knowledge or resources. The truth is, we are only seeing coordination on targets. Each country and region, with unique economic, technological, political, and environmental frameworks and capacities, is largely forging a path of their own.

That lack of coordination could be particularly damaging for the Muslim world, which is likely to suffer the biggest humanitarian cost of climate change. Scientists warn, for instance, that swaths of North Africa and the Middle East risk becoming uninhabitable before 2100, potentially displacing up to 600 million people.

So how can the Islamic world – large sections of which risk extinction unless collective action is taken – create the framework of coordination and cooperation necessary to avert such a disaster?

Shared vision

To achieve that, we must leverage the one thing that unites the Islamic world – faith. In fact, to successfully tackle climate change, we must engage the hundreds of millions of people globally who live by religious values. That means including people of faith — and faith itself — into the discourse of the environmental movement. This shouldn’t be difficult in the Muslim world. After all, in the Islamic faith, we find repeated exhortations to protect the environment. For instance, in the Qur’an’s 2nd chapter, Surah Al Baqarah, we learn that God created humans to serve as His “Caliphs” on Earth. This can be translated to mean “steward”. In other words, we are compelled to safeguard the world that God has entrusted humanity with.

How, then, can these faith-based values of environmental welfare come alive in the form of real partnerships and shared environmental standards that transcend borders, while simultaneously remaining grounded in economic realities?

The answer lies in leveraging the untapped power of the Halal economy.

The concept of Halal includes a deeply ethical and spiritual element – something that particularly appeals to younger generations. Estimated to reach $3.2 trillion in value by 2024, the global halal economy in its truest sense extends to pursuing environmentally sustainable practices.

At the grassroots level, the Halal economy can motivate Muslim consumers across countless countries to play their part in tackling climate change, framing the challenge within the context of a religiously inspired struggle – in effect a halal imperative.

At the governmental level, the halal economy can be the glue the unites nations under a shared vision and aligns the economic objectives of the Muslim world to green and sustainable objectives. Imagine, for instance, how the halal economy could create truly international sustainability benchmarks and certification standards. Such standards, backed by major economies, would have to be taken seriously on the world stage.

All of this could, slowly but surely, begin moving the Muslim world towards its own version of a Green New Deal. Admittedly, we are a long way off, but the shared values, vision, and necessities common to the Muslim world make such a prospect possible.

And while a grand pan-Islamic world collaboration may not be practical straight away, Malaysia is keen to offer its support in exploring a working model by first engaging like-minded and complementary societies in the Middle East that lie along a common equatorial belt.

This is particularly pertinent when you consider the Middle East is on the cusp of a reforestation effort in which Malaysia has longstanding experience of delivering in its own country. In addition, standards like The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme, which is grounded in the same ethical values that underpin the concept of halal-like environmental protection, animal welfare and human rights, could be updated and revised with benchmarks to suit other crops and sustainability in mind.

This is just one example of regional cooperation that can set the tone for wider-scale cooperation across the Equatorial belt — from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia. These are the types of collaborations that might just lay the groundwork for what could eventually grow to become a historic, pan-Islamic ‘Green Deal’.

Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali is Malaysia’s Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

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