How often do you get to meet someone who you’ve only admired and known about through books and the media? 28th August 2009 was one such day for me. I met Professor Emil Salim of Indonesia.

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With Prof Emil Salim

Though an unassuming man in his late 70s, Pak Emil’s vast experience as an Indonesian policy maker and international advisor is larger than life. My colleagues and I were delighted that he was able to accept our invitation for our Conference on Climate Insecurities, Human Security and Social Resillience. I was all the more ecstatic as I had the chance to conduct a brief interview with him after the Conference.

All eyes and ears were peeled as Pak Emil delivered his presentation on Sustainable development  full of passion, sincere frankness and a good dose of wit. I was inspired by Pak Emil’s visionary thinking as he reiterated phrases such as “this is the future” when discussing the prospects of renewable energy and other sustainable development measures.

Several points raised by Pak Emil resonated with themes that I had picked up during my study trip on the United States Institute on the Environment (USIE).* Firstly, he noted the need for greater inter-disciplinary studies, discussion and action so as to address complex issues on the environment in a holistic manner.

Secondly, he emphasized the role of those with technical backgrounds – in particular economists and engineers – as drivers and translators for effective sustainable development. “Getting the price right” and having a strong scientific foundation are essential to see the process through.

Thirdly, Pak Emil noted the power of ideas and critical importance of engaging the right people who can catalyse the process and thereby materialise these ideas.

Finally, a point that was clearly driven during the short interview I had with him, was his belief in the youth as being drivers of change for the future. His words of encouragement were indeed inspiring, and clearly highlighted the momentum available to sustain change in the Asian region, despite existing skepticism. Change can happen with the support of a sense of optimism and perseverance.

To play on the words of Alexander Wendt, “Change is what states and communities make of it”.

*To view my report on USIE in pdf format, please click here

In July, some 200 Muslim scholars gathered in Istanbul and formulated the first ever Muslim Climate Change Action Plan. This is indeed a milestone as it demonstrates a united front by the Muslim community in the need to be proactive in addressing contemporary global issues. 

Sheikh Ali Gomaa, The Grand Mufti of Egypt, speaking at the historic meeting in Istanbul.
Sheikh Ali Goma'a, The Grand Mufti of Egypt, speaking at the historic meeting in Istanbul.

However, I do have some reservations as to how this plan will play out. While the bulk of the plan does have significant initiatives to address climate change, one of it seemed to suggest that “Islamic environmental labels” should be created. Is this really necessary?

Global environmental standards, labels and mechanisms are already readily available; why then should “islamic” labels be used? Why waste our time inventing the wheel? This response is therefore inappropriate as it only serves further separate the Muslim community from the wider society. Moreover, creating more ‘islamic labels’ only serves to further emphasize rituals and rules, rather than a deeper and holistic understanding of islamic teachings on the environment.

It is only a matter of time till we see how this plan will materialize (if at all).

To view a related op-ed that I had written in 2007 on the role of the OIC, click the link below.

Climate Change and the Muslim World: The OIC can do with Captain Planet

So whats the big deal with reducing consumption? Why should I reduce my consumption and jepoardise my comfortable lifestyle? Why should it matter to me?

The following two videos provide light on these questions. (both with super cute animation! 🙂 )

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  1. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, provides a concise look at consumption patterns and is one of the most well recieved video clips on the environment, with more than 7 million views.
  2. The second video (as seen below) describes Japan’s food production and consumption patterns, but nevertheless has important lessons for other countries.

As the month of Ramadan draws nearer, so does my proposed Green Iftar, which will be organised under the auspices of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) in Singapore on the 5th of Sept. Its quite exciting as this would kickstart a drive of further environmental awareness amongst Muslims in Singapore.

I was pleased to have been sent an article from The Council of Islamic Organizatons of Greater Chicago website (via the DC Green Muslims mailing list) as it only serves to strengthen my resolve of further advocating environmental awareness amongst Muslims. 

In the article, Dr Zaher Sahloul highlights the opportunities of advocating greater reflection and concrete action amongst Muslims on their relationship with the environment. He also provides examples of simple practices that Muslims can adopt for an environmentally friendly lifestyle. The best part of it all,  these practices are simple and complement what has already been advocated in other environmental circles.  Below are a few lines from the article that brought a smile to my face 🙂

“Every person will leave an ecological and a spiritual footprint. Your ecological footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide that you produce in life by using energy, especially fossil fuel, through transportation, use of electricity, consumption of certain food that require transportation and industrial fertilizers, waste and pollution. As Americans, our average ecological footprint is five to ten times that of a person living in other areas in the developing world. We use fasting in Ramadan to cap our eating, our drinking and our impulses, so why do we not use it to shrink our ecological footprint?

Why don’t we advance the concept of the Muslim footprint and educate our community to work collectively to shrink it?

Ramadan can be transformed to be a truly green month, and Muslims, with all people of faith, can live up to their responsibility to be the true stewards on earth and use Ramadan to help us reach that goal.

Ramadan is a once a year opportunity to tackle global issues like overconsumption, materialism, poverty, hunger, wars and yes, global warming.

To view the full article, please click on this link

Its just great to know that more like-minded people worldwide are wanting to make a difference in the Umma. Kudos and more strength to you all.

Ahlan ya Ramadan! Bring it on!

 

As governments gear up to meet in Copenhagen later this year to formulate a Post-Kyoto protocol framework on climate change, governments have been slow in translating scientific knowledge into policy responses. There is thus an urgent need for a holistic approach.

This op-ed – written by yours truly – was published on 8th April 2009 as part of the RSIS Commentaries series. To view this article (in pdf format), click here.

This article of mine has been featured in Visions 2009 – an annual magazine by the National University of Singapore’s Muslim Society (NUSMS)

9/11. Osama bin Laden. Iraq. Gaza. Media coverage and political developments on these issues have taken the Muslim world by storm, as the latter continues to struggle in coming to a consensus on how best to manage what is supposedly a dichotomy between Islam and the West. However, there have been a series of other events that require as much attention by the Ummah – Global Warming. “Natural” Disasters. Water Scarcity. Food and Energy Insecurity. These, too, have been a source of social unrest and conflict.

There is clearly a need for Muslims to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, as a means of encouraging a progressive train of thought and being aware of pertinent issues in contemporary times.

There are several reasons why the Ummah should consider climate change as a significant driver for ensuring progress from within. Firstly, Muslims – like everyone else – are victims of climate change. Whether it be issues of food insecurity, lack of energy resources or humanitarian disasters (which often overlap each other), these incidents ultimately feed back into a potentially vicious cycle of poverty – the root of all suffering in the Muslim world today.

This is evident as most Muslim countries are less developed countries, and are therefore highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To date, there has been an increasing number of weather related disasters in Muslim countries (i.e. member states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference). According to the United Nations Relief Web statistics, OIC member states have experienced a total of 76 floods/flashfloods since 2006. This is 22 more than the period of 2001 -2005, and close to double the number of incidents in the period 1996 – 2000. Given the low capacity of governments in developing countries, it is often difficult to respond efficiently to these disasters. Moreover, the increasing frequency of weather related disasters complicates the situation, as states would have a reduced amount of time to recover from the previous disaster before the next disaster strikes.

The second reason for greater engagement in climate change issues by Muslim countries would be that they too contribute to climate change. According the World Resources Institute (WRI), gulf Arab countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, are amongst the top ten countries with the highest level of carbon emissions per capita. Indonesia also contributes a high level of carbon emissions with its rapid rate of deforestation and land degradation – largely a result of illegal logging and the increasing global demand for biofuels. Wetlands International notes that if carbon emissions from land degradation were included in existing measurements, Indonesia would be the third largest carbon emitter after the United States and China.

Nevertheless, the Muslim World can provide solutions to this global challenge. For one, Muslim states should take advantage of the global mechanisms available to mitigate and adapt to climate change. One such example would be engaging in the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under the CDM, less developed states would be able to acquire green technology from carbon emitting countries, as a means for the latter to reduce its carbon emissions. Although said to be one of the UNFCCC’s best achievements thus far, few Muslim countries have used this opportunity. Moreover, wealthier Muslim states such as the gulf Arab countries, Malaysia and Turkey, can play a significant role in investing in green technology and supporting the transfer of technology to their less developed counterparts. In addition to this, current international discussions on climate change also include the possibility of extending a carbon trade system to the forestry sector – ie. Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Forest rich countries such as Indonesia, therefore have a significant part to play by conserving its forests to act as carbon sinks. As such, engagement in global deliberations and actions on climate change would demonstrate their willingness to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In light of the above-mentioned points, much of the work would have to come from governmental officials and negotiators in international climate change discussions. Civil societies in Muslim states must also provide support for their governments by promoting environmental awareness on the implications of climate change to the mass public. Often times, it would be difficult to change old habits, especially amongst older generations, who do not see climate change as a critical issue. A useful way of affecting change amongst the older generation would therefore be to speak to them – “in their own language” – such as with common shared values. Islam itself is a beacon of environmental principles, but is often not given much attention in Muslim circles.

Good work has been done in several Muslim environmental groups – such as the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) in the UK and Eco-Pesantren in Indonesia. These organisations have done their bit by engaging Muslim scholars, the public as well as local leaders to advocate environmentalism from an Islamic perspective (Islamic Environmentalism, for short). The point here is not to suggest that Islamic Environmentalism is distinct from the secular notions of environmentalism, but rather that it provides a useful tool to engage fellow Muslims on caring for the environment, and more importantly, encouraging them to think of their faith holistically.

In an upcoming book on Singapore Muslim Youth – under the auspices of the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (Young AMP) – a chapter is devoted to Islam and the Environment. In this chapter, a survey was conducted amongst Singapore Muslim Youths. The results were interesting as many were not consciously aware of the emphasis that Islam places on the environment. Moreover, more than 75% of respondents were of the opinion that Muslims would be more environmentally friendly if religious scholars/leaders played a more proactive role in advocating environmentalism. In addition to this, 90% of respondents mentioned that they would like to see more being done by religious scholars/leaders to promote environmental awareness.

What this survey has highlighted is that religious leadership still plays a significant role in influencing or shaping the ideas of the community. In this regard, community engagement – at best a collaboration of religious scholars/leaders, environmentalists and scientific experts – would be a novel way of further building awareness on the environment, as well as bridge the gaps between theology and science in a bid to generate progress in the Muslim community.

So I finally decided to embrace the New Media out of necessity.

It is necessary to ensure a more holistic understanding of Islam.

It is necessary to understand the debates surrounding climate change.

It is necessary to empower people to take a proactive role in caring for the environment.

It is, hence, necessary that I become sit in front of this computer screen to talk to you folks out there.

More to come, so stay tuned. 🙂