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Islamic Leaders Join Call for World Governments to Phase Out Fossil Fuels

After the Pope recently added a religious voice to the chorus of hundreds of business leaders, youth, subnational governments (and one boyband) calling on world leaders to take bold action on climate change, Islamic leaders from 20 countries have now chimed in, urging world governments to phase out fossil fuels and rely on renewable energy to confront climate change.

On Tuesday at the two-day International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul, which gathered 60 Islamic leaders from around the world, released a declaration pushing officials to formulate a plan to tackle climate change this year, and to act on it.

The declaration comes ahead of the much-anticipated United Nations COP21 climate conference this December, where world leaders aim to build a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and curbing global warming. The Islamic leaders are urging conference participants to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” on a climate change strategy. They called on “well-off nations and oil-producing states” to institute policies that would keep the global temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius, the benchmark at which scientists predict the worst of global warming would set in.

To do so, the Muslim leaders say, will require firm commitments to 100 percent renewable energy “as early as possible” and “re-focus[ing] their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.”

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The declaration was written by “a large, diverse team of international Islamic scholars from around the world,” according to the Climate Action Network (CAN), an international group of non-governmental organizations focused on climate policy.

“Civil society is delighted by this powerful climate declaration coming from the Islamic community, which could be a game-changer,” CAN International Director Wael Hmaidan said in a statement.

The declaration makes a moral case for taking on climate change and quotes from the Quran to urge Muslims to support the effort, echoing Pope Francis’ arguments for the same. According to CAN, the declaration aligns with Francis's encyclical, and the Vatican has endorsed it.

“A great motivation which unites Christians, Muslims and many others is the firm belief in God. This faith compels us to care for the magnificent gift he has bestowed upon us — and, God willing, upon those, who will follow us,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in a statement. “Our urgent action will surely be more effective if we believers of different religious communities find ways to work together. So it is with great joy and in a spirit of solidarity that I express to you the promise of the Catholic Church to pray for the success of your initiative and her desire to work with you in the future to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us.”

As Emma Foehringer Merchant pointed out in a post in New Republic today, while the Muslim legacy of environmentalism has long been overshadowed by Christian-focused environmental stewardship, this week’s declaration could potentially have a larger reach than its Catholic counterpart. According to a recent Pew study, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, with roughly 1.6 billion followers (the global population of Catholics is roughly 1 billion), and by 2050, there will likely be as many Muslims as there are Christians of all denominations.

Many Muslims also live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, with predicted increases in drought, floods, and other extreme weather events as a result of higher temperatures. In late July, Turkey, where the symposium was held, experienced extreme heat waves. Earlier this month, temperatures in Iraq rocketed so high the government declared a four-day holiday.

While Tuesday’s declaration may not have a political impact on Muslim countries such as Pakistan — which, according to a 2014 World Health Organization report, continues to heavily prioritize economic growth over environmental issues — faith-based appeals could have resounding effects in public perception and encourage conversation on climate change.

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