Global warming is a relatively new phenomenon and often in the headlines. It is regarded as one of the most serious environmental problems of our time and has attracted the attention of many international experts. Global warming is primarily caused by too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which acts as a blanket, trapping heat and warming the planet.
A doubling of the CO2 concentration could lead to a 5oC rise in the world’s temperature. Scientists believe that a one degree rise could melt the Greenland ice sheet and drown the Maldives, but a three degree increase could kill the Amazon rainforest, wipe out nearly half of all species facing extinction and create havoc with crops. The increasing temperatures may be followed by a large variety of other problems such as with El Nino.
The Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (1896) was the first person to claim that fossil fuel combustion which releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere increases global temperatures. But his discoveries lay dormant until the mid-20th century when they were eventually proven. In 1988 the greenhouse effect theory was recognised and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation. From 1998 onwards the terminology surrounding greenhouse effect was used less and people started to refer to the theory as either global warming or climate change.
The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) committed state parties to reducing greenhouse gas emissions culminating in the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, in Kyoto, Japan; in 1997 (the protocol came into force on 16 February 2005). This protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to ‘a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. Despite all these measures, the world’s temperature keeps rising, partly because it seems that governments have been slow to implement the agreements.
..the world’s 1.6bn Muslims have a religious duty to fight climate change… in the words of the Qur’an, “not to strut arrogantly on the Earth”.
The earth’s temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century. More than half of this increase has happened in the last 25 years. It seems that the temperature is rising at a faster rate than ever before. Human activities such as fossil fuel burning, deforestation, industrialisation and pollution are thought to be only a few factors responsible for global warming. Although we have benefited from technological advancements humans have failed to maintain a balance so that excessive consumerism does not disrupt nature’s innate harmony.
As the climate changes, the risk of injury, illness, and death resulting from heatwaves, wildfires, intense storms, and floods rise. Three key ingredients—sunlight, warm air, and pollution from power plants and cars—combine to produce ground-level ozone (smog), which humans experience as “poor air quality”. Higher air temperatures increase smog if sunlight, fossil fuel pollution, and air currents remain the same. Studies have shown that high levels of smog are linked to an increase in hospital admissions for cardiac problems.
Warmer temperatures and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulate some plants to grow faster, mature earlier, or produce more “potent allergens”. A more recent study in Italy found that not only have the local levels of pollen increased but the population’s sensitivity to pollen has also increased.
Scientists expect a warmer world to bring changes in ’disease vectors’ (the mechanisms that spread some diseases). Insects previously stationary due to cold winters are now moving to higher latitudes (toward the poles). Warmer oceans and other surface waters could also mean severe cholera outbreaks and harmful bacteria in certain types of seafood. However man-made changes to the environment and the ability of public health to redress diseases make projecting the risk of vector-borne disease particularly difficult.
2015 was an important year in climate change control. In the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium held in Istanbul in August 2015, a group of top academics drafted an “Islamic Declaration on Climate Change”. They believe that an international agreement on climate change needs to be driven by a bigger, broader and stronger citizens’ movement. The Islamic Climate Declaration says says that the world’s 1.6bn Muslims have a religious duty to fight climate change. It urges politicians to agree a new treaty to limit global warming to ‘two or preferably 1.5 degrees.’ They hope this initiative influences the political leaders in Muslim countries to become more involved in global attempts to deliver a new treaty on climate change. The Declaration asks Muslims, in the words of the Qur’an, “not to strut arrogantly on the Earth”.
“O children of Adam! Eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely He does not love those who exceed the bounds” (7:32)
Other religious leaders’ pronouncements, such as Pope Francis’s Encyclical on the Environment and Climate Change, was seen as a significant call for Catholics to engage in the issue of global warming. Pope Francis blamed human selfishness for global warming and urged the rich to change their lifestyles to avert the destruction of the eco-system. The 192-page letter, named ‘Laudato Si’ (Be Praised) – On the Care of Our Common Home’, is classified as a high level teaching document. In this letter the Pope blames human activities for global warming. Catholic leaders have also praised the Islamic Declaration as a positive step towards global warming control.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Paris on 12 December 2015, was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP). The key result was an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius (oC) compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century.
It is thus clear that the drastic changes we have seen in our environment during the past few decades are and have been more often than not a direct result of man’s abuse of nature. As Muslims we believe that the Creator has and will continue to provide us with ample resources for all time. But through man’s misuse, this balance is changing. As always Islam encourages balance and moderation in keeping with nature’s harmony. Humans need to use resources for their progress but this should be done wisely and in a sustainable manner so that a satisfactory medium is maintained.