UN Climate Speech / 04 Oct, 2019
Religion Is a "Motivational Force for Climate Action" - Ovais Sarmad

UN Climate Change News, 4 October 2019 - UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary called on participants of the 8th Islamic Conference of Environment Ministers to provide moral leadership by taking ambitious action on climate change.

Speaking at the conference organized this week by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Rabat, Morroco, under the theme “The Role of Cultural and Religious Factors in the Protection of Environment and Sustainable Development. He said:

"Islam has been a motivational force behind many advances in history and we call upon you to provide leadership on the most important issue facing humanity"

Mr. Sarmad spoke about the special vulnerability to climate change in the region, pointing out that according to IPCC modeling, an estimated additional 80 million to 100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025, putting more pressure on already depleted groundwater resources in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

"When it comes to the environment, there is probably no bigger issue for this generation—and the generations to come—than the challenge posed by climate change to our very existence and to the sustainable development of all nations", he said.

Ovais Sarmad highlighted the importance of faith and religious leaders have when it comes to addressing the challendes posed by climate change:

"To overcome these challenges, we need to collectively ensure a low emission, clean and sustainable future. Achieving this relies in first place, on a transformational shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Not only Islam, but all other religions emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the role of teachers as appointed guides to mold and correct behavior, provide direction to take the right action on climate change."

Read his full remarks:

On behalf of the UN Climate Change Secretariat and its Executive Secretary, Ms. Patricia Espinosa, I would like to sincerely thank the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for the invitation to address this Ministerial Conference.

I would also like to thank you, Ministers and high-level representatives in attendance, for your engagement on a topic as important as the role of cultural and religious factors in the protection of the environment and sustainable development. 

When it comes to the environment, there is probably no bigger issue for this generation—and the generations to come—than the challenge posed by climate change to our very existence and to the sustainable development of all nations. 

In the Middle East and North Africa climate change is an especially urgent issue. According to IPCC modeling, an estimated additional 80 million to 100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025, putting more pressure on already depleted groundwater resources in the Middle East and Northern Africa. 

Climate models further project sea levels rising by over 0.5 meters by the end of the century would place low-lying coastal areas in Tunisia, Qatar, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt at particular risk.

To give just one more example, Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou said last week at the UN Climate Summit held in New York, that the Sahel region, is experiencing extreme temperatures, fluctuating rainfall, and droughts, all of which degrade land, change grazing patterns, and reduce water supply for both animals and people. This in turn jeopardizes food security and can have a negative impact on security and migration. 

To overcome these challenges, we need to collectively ensure a low emission, clean and sustainable future. Achieving this relies in first place, on a transformational shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

Not only Islam, but all other religions emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the role of teachers as appointed guides to mold and correct behavior, provide direction to take the right action on climate change.

Given what the science tells us, and what we can see with our own eyes, it’s clear we are facing a climate emergency and all sectors of society must come together to address this crisis. 

Throughout the year, youth around the globe have sounded the alarm bells, urging everybody to raise their ambition on climate action. 

Last week, leaders from government, business and civil society gathered in New York for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit and announced potentially far-reaching steps to confront climate change. 

This is encouraging. However, as the Secretary-General indicated in his closing remarks, the Summit “delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition. But we have a long way to go”. 

In other words, we need more actions still, we need much more ambition.

Ambition is a word that often has a negative connotation—striving for personal or material gain at the expense of the collective whole or spiritual self. 

And, it could be argued, ambition has led to many of our current climate change problems. 

The ambition to get ahead. The ambition to produce more than others. The ambition to consume more than others.  

Ambition has led to many remarkable and innovative advances for humankind. But its residue lingers in our skies and in our waters.   

Ambition has not always served us well in the past, but it can and must lead to a better future —if we harness it the right way.

Everything we’re doing at UN Climate Change right now is about raising ambition: 

  • Ambition to ensure we’re fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement. 
  • Ambition to dramatically accelerate climate ambition before 2020.
  • And ambition that must be reflected in the next round of nationally-determined contributions—or NDCs as we call them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Culture and religion are powerful components of societal and behavioral change.

To increase and sustain the transformation required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development we need strong moral motivation for change, which is what ISESCO and the outcomes of this Conference can provide.

In the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Conference, Islamic leaders called on the world's 1.8 billion Muslims to play an active role in combatting climate change and urged governments to reach an agreement in Paris. 

We have the Agreement and its operational guidance, we now need ambitious actions.

Islam has been a motivational force behind many advances in history and we call upon you to provide leadership on the most important issue facing humanity. 

To help societies build a better future, both for this generation and all generations to follow—a future that is cleaner, greener, and more prosperous. 

We must want to make this happen. 

Thank you.