Talking Point Issue 3: An open letter to faith based organisations represented at COP 22 in Marrakesh
Dear friends and colleagues,
The Paris protocol is now in force but may I just remind you that where we need to take giant strides this is only one small step for humankind. The COP process is vital and necessary but what we need overall is a paradigm shift that will enable us to leave a liveable Earth for our children. Divesting in fossil fuel investment to the exclusion of everything else is like plugging a leak in a dam that is about to burst. Let us take note that big oil is pushing a pipe line through North Dakota in the face of stiff opposition and the British Government is inviting bidders for new offshore drilling licences. And I wonder if anyone is talking to the Middle Eastern oil producers about divestment.
The voices of faith communities are now beginning to be heard in the global arena in matters of vital concern for us all. From tentative beginnings COP 21 in Paris witnessed the burgeoning presence of Faith Based Organisations (FBO’s) in the public arena to the extent that we have earned ourselves our very own acronym. FBO’s are now on the map and ask to be heard. This is unprecedented and long overdue though it must be said that people of faith did run the world for millennia keeping it in reasonable shape for past generations to thrive in. The organisation of the Climate Conscience Summit by the far sighted Government of Morocco in Fez on 3 November, is a commendable event. It not only recognises the emergence of once marginalised faith communities but also assures the continuing consolidation of this movement.
As you are no doubt aware human induced climate change now poses a deadly threat to all life on planet Earth. Although FBOs have the potential to be a positive force for change there are other fault lines defined by special interests which have the capacity to impede progress. Looking at this fairly and squarely in the face it has to be said that much of the responsibility for change lies in the hands of corporations and banks that wield enormous power and have access to resources. They perpetuate a counter narrative to the COP process we need to address. In a sceptical editorial that appeared in the influential Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Monday 14 December 2015, on the first week day edition after the Paris summit, it made the following comment:
“The moment to be wariest of political enthusiasms is precisely when elite opinion is all lined up on one side … if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it.”
This is verging on the rude and displays an arrogance of monumental proportions. The WSJ is located like the UN headquarters in New York and I wonder if one is listening to the other or do they just stare at each other over the sand bags. The best place to experience the chasm that exists between big business and the COP process is to visit the World Economic Forum that is held in Davos, Switzerland each year. Take your snow boots with you as it is held in deep winter. There is a serious need here for the two groups that think they run the world to be talking to each other.
The G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, China just about eight weeks ago was heralded by both China and the USA announcing their ratification of the Paris climate proposals. However one doesn’t have to read too hard between the lines to notice some feet dragging is going on. For example there were some rumblings in Hangzhou concerning timelines for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. In some countries tampering with existing subsidies is tantamount to political suicide because in the final analysis it is the voice of the people that matter.
Sustainable Development (SD) warranted frequent references in the final Hangzhou communiqué. But it is just about dawning on policymakers that SD becoming a reality requires a capital intensive transition which is bound to interfere with the carbon reduction programme. We are in a double bind and a huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of the politicians because it is they who have to straddle the fine line that exists between cutting carbon emissions to the required proportions which on the one hand requires a degree of austerity and on the other responding to people’s demands for prosperity. This puts the onus on developed countries to rethink their economics beyond COP and SD and apply the brakes to slow down growth to enable the rest to have a fair share of the cake. This is no time to be pointing our fingers at the United States as it is preoccupied in electing a new leader and I only refer to that country as a template for the rest of the world. The campaign for the presidency clearly reflects the universal fact that the climate change agenda is always subordinate to the growth agenda.
Morocco is unique amongst Muslim countries in the lead it is giving to bring the climate agenda to the notice of the people and following it up with an agenda which is both international and local in scope. The hosting of COP 22 takes care of the international and the local which is of primary importance becomes apparent in government policy where there is an undertaking to provide renewable energy to hundreds of mosques in all parts of the country by installing solar panels. I would urge the Moroccan Government to catch the wind and embark on an education programme that reflects Islam’s basic conservationist approach to life. In this regard we offer our experience built over more than thirty years of work.
We have a shared responsibility and this is where the burgeoning FBO movement has a vital role to play. The collective will of people of faith can be a force to be reckoned with and as an interface between people and policy makers there is much this movement can deliver. As a lobby we can be strong enough to influence public policy but we also need to engage in demonstrable change if we are going to be taken seriously.
Fazlun Khalid is the Founder and Director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (EcoIslam), Birmingham UK; Convenor of the drafting team of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.