COP22: American Muslims vote to ditch fossil fuels

| 11th November 2016
COP22 in Marrakesh. Photo: Rhys Gerholdt / WRI via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
COP22 in Marrakesh. Photo: Rhys Gerholdt / WRI via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
An influential organisation of American Muslims announced at COP22 in Marrakesh that it will end investment in fossil fuels, and urged its partners to follow suit, writes Alex Kirby. The move adds to pressure on sovereign wealth and pension funds worth $19 trillion to follow suit to meet Paris Agreement targets.
According to Islam's most fundamental teachings, human beings have been uniquely charged with the great responsibility of being guardians of the Earth. We cannot invest in fossil fuel companies whose operations and products cause such grave harm.

As representatives of many of the world's main religions join financial leaders in calling for a switch of investment from polluting energy to renewables, a prominent Islamic organisation says it will do just that, in a landmark divestment commitment from a Muslim institution.

The undertaking by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was announced at a side event at COP-22, the conference of the UN Convention on Climate Change, in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

The event brought together global faith leaders with financial institutions and foundations to urge sovereign wealth and pension funds with a collective worth put at more than $19 trillion (£15 trillion) to make a rapid end of their investments in fossil fuels and to re-invest them in renewable energy, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement

"According to Islam's most basic and fundamental teachings, human beings have been uniquely charged with the great responsibility of being guardians of the Earth", Dr. Azhar Azeez, ISNA's president, told the meeting.

"It goes against the mission of ISNA to invest in fossil fuel companies whose operations and products cause such grave harm to humanity and to creation."

Islamic pioneers

The American Muslims' undertaking is described by the event organisers as "the world's first divestment announcement from a Muslim institution." Other groups have already urged similar action without necessarily making a specific commitment: the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, for instance, is published by a UK-based group, IFEES-EcoIslam.

What impact ISNA's action may have (it is an umbrella organisation, reported in 2008 to include 4,000 member groups) is unclear. Within North America it could conceivably help to discourage investment in fracking.

Whether it will spur debate in the oil-rich Gulf and Middle East states, or in the big fossil fuel producers like Russia and the countries of Central Asia, with their large Muslim populations, is also uncertain.

ISNA made its announcement within hours of the end of the US presidential campaign, which dismayed many who saw the winner, Republican candidate Donald Trump, as a thuggish bully-boy. Despite his controversial campaign Trump's entry to the White House was eased for him - perhaps achieved - by the votes of millions of evangelical Christians.

They - and Trump himself, denouncer of global warming as "a total and very expensive hoax" created by the Chinese - seem unlikely to listen to ISNA.

'The Earth is a gift, and it is our responsibility to protect it'

The faith leaders' meeting, organised by GreenFaith and Divest Invest, which works to speed up the transition to a future of clean energy, released a statement whose signatories include the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and over 220 other faith leaders from around the globe. 

The statement aims to accelerate the move to a low-carbon future quickly enough to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Its supporters argue not only for a shift of public finances away from fossil fuels but for increased financing to end energy poverty with renewable energy, and to ensure that the transition protects human rights and vulnerable communities.

One speaker at the faith leaders' meeting was Mark Sainsbury, chair of the Mark Leonard Trust, one of the Climate News Network's funders. He said: "The Paris Agreement, new regulations and technological innovation will see fossil fuel companies lose value and market share to sustainable energy technologies.

"In fact, it's happening already. We're in a sustainable energy revolution and I believe it's wiser to invest in the low-carbon technology of today and tomorrow, not the high-carbon technology of yesterday."

Another, the Revd Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, said: "Religious and spiritual communities recognise that the Earth is a gift, and that it is our responsibility to protect it. In the face of the climate crisis, we are all required to act and to immediately shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.

"Faith communities are also united in their concern to care for the most vulnerable and are committed to bring distributed, clean power to the 1.1 billion people globally who lack access to electricity by 2030."



Alex Kirby writes for Climate News Network, where this article was originally published.

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