The question I placed at the end of the last article may not have been in good taste to readers. Nevertheless, if you look at it from the angle of where our globe currently stands due to the havoc created by mankind to the environment, you might agree with me that there is a dire need to act urgently, as if our own house is on fire.
In a UN Development Programme conference a few years ago, I quoted three divine revelations as to how human beings tend to misuse the environment as a habit. I provide them below in the sequence of revelation to put my point in the right perspective:
Torah: “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are — how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13)
Bible: “The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore, earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.” (Isaiah 24:4-6)
Quran: “He created man, teaching him speech. The sun and the moon follow a reckoning, and the grass and the trees prostrate. And He has raised the heaven and set up the balance, that you should not contravene with regard to the balance. And observe the measure with justice and do not skimp the balance. And the earth, He placed it for [all] creatures. In it are fruits and date-palms with sheaths, and grain with husk, and fragrant herb. So which of your Lord’s favors will you deny?” (Al-Rahman, 55:3-13)
Many participants were taken by surprise when I read these quotes. Not because most had heard them for the first time, but they found the sheer displeasure from the Creator simply perplexing given that it came at such an early stage of humanity when the world’s population would have been a mere fraction of what it is today. In addition, global warming had not yet started due to the absence of industry and mass pollution.
I reasoned by saying that God’s word is never for the particular time they were revealed upon the prophets but the warnings are everlasting until man continues to occupy the earth. Hence, the quotations continue to remain valid to date and — in a literal sense — until the end of the world.
In the recently held Earth Summit, the following data was revealed, enough to wake any world leader from slumber on the environment count:
a. In the next quarter of a century, ie by 2050, the global economy may shrink from climate change if the Paris Agreement and International Energy Agency (IEA) net-zero emission targets are not met.
b. Contraction may be 11% upon a 2oC temperature increase, 14% on 2.6oC (most likely) and 18% on a 3.2oC (severe case) increase.
c. Unmitigated climate risk may lead to global per capita economic loss of up to 14% by 2200. It stood at US$10,000 as of 2020 so we are looking at a decline of US$1,400 to US$8,600.
d. No action by countries exposes them to transition risks since the world’s focus shall shift to low-carbon economies where the cost of doing business shall be low and the return high. The most affected may be South Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
e. Climate risk can be managed with coordinated global policy action jointly by public and private sectors. Climate literacy is the key to a greener world.
The last point brings me to explain my personal view on whether the climate protection measures should be optional and voluntary, or otherwise. I have said it a few times in forums and believe that it would be in the fitness of things if every country works on bringing out the regulations based on the peculiarity of the environmental situation in its own backyard. To be in sync with global efforts, the common thread should be the Paris Agreement and IEA targets.
The regulations for environment protection should be rolled out in the shape of a ‘soft law’ which should be hardened during the course of a given time frame based on the carrot and stick policy whereby tangible incentives should be provided to abiding organizations and fines imposed on violating ones.
Soft laws are defined as the resolution guidelines, recommendations, declarations and opinions, which, in contrast to hard laws ie regulations, directives and decisions, are not binding but advisory in nature. However, the soft laws can gradually be transformed into hard laws through a well-orchestrated plan, broken with achievable goalposts. The incentives and fines may play a substantial part in the journey whereby the fines may be utilized to fund the incentives, thereby making the system of environment protection self-reliant.
All of this is very relevant to Islamic finance since it is part of the global financial industry, albeit a small one but growing rapidly. In fact, Islam provides clear guidelines on protecting the environment and in this context I would like to end this article on the following valuable command from Prophet Muhammad which serves as a strong incentive: “Whoever plants a tree is rewarded by God as much as the produce grown in that tree.”
The purpose of this educative series and the article is not to hurt any religious or commercial sentiments either consciously or even unwittingly.
Next week: More on green and social Islamic finance.