This year’s Earth Day comes against a grim backdrop. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that it is “now or neverto avoid irreversible global warming.
This news particularly hits my African continent. Although we produce only four % of global carbon emissions, the lowest of any region in the world, we are already paying a disproportionate price. Africa faces a bleak future full of extreme weather events, such as the retreat of rare glaciers, desertification, famines and torrential rain. The continent already lacks the resources and infrastructure to deal with the worst effects of the climate crisis.
But as UN and EU policymakers try to rally African policymakers to invest in climate goals, they fail to commit to – or even acknowledge – the greatest resource that could to help mobilize Africans: faith.
Africa is home to some of the largest and fastest growing in the world Christian and Muslim communities, all of whom wield great social, cultural and economic power. According to a 2015 survey, Africa is the most religious continent on the planet with more than 80% of people identifying with a religion. And therein lies the untapped power and moral authority that is not being used in the fight against the climate crisis.
Religious Africans are likely to be active and dedicated in their religious practice, and strongly resistant to secularization. So much so that religion in Africa is closely linked to the traditions of the continent, and in general, plays a role notable role in the decisions people make about their own development.
Religion profoundly influences behavioral aspects that affect our environment. These include childbearing decisions, patterns of consumption or production, or even how the climate crisis is perceived – whether man-made or simply beyond our control. In this context, religious institutions hold great power to provide the intellectual and moral lens through which to both understand the climate crisis and adhere to climate-friendly policies.
And as more and more young Africans – who make up 42% of the total number of young people in the world by 2030 – fall into the broad swath of the faith-based population, advocacy movements are also gaining popularity and producing tangible impacts.
For example, Extinction Rebellion Muslims, which sees African Muslims associating with like-minded people of different faiths all the way to the UK, has successfully blocked the construction of luxury resorts in Nairobi National Park. But this is just the tip of a largely unnoticed groundswell of faith-based climate coalitions.
For example, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, which encourages renewable energy projects appealing to religious values and commitments, recently launched a solar field project on Church of England land in Mozambique. And Catholic groups like the Ecclesial Network for the Congo River Basinor REBAC, protect Africa’s rainforests by organizing protests and empowering indigenous groups.
But it does not stop there.
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The world’s largest Islamic NGO, the Muslim World League (MWL), already has a substantial presence in Africa, in partnership with major organizations like UNICEF to fight climate impacts on poverty across the continent. Today, its Secretary General, Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, is helping launch a new NGO focused on climate action in Africa (among other regions). Called Faith for Our Planet (FFOP), it is grounded in the realization that faith is one of the primary drivers of societal change, and as such actively builds a faith-based network of grassroots religious actors across – and beyond – the Africa to tackle the climate crisis.
All of this points to a stark reality that international development agencies, governments and key intergovernmental bodies need to take stock of.
First, that religious voices must have a place at the table – not just because they represent so many Africans and the rest of the world – but because they coordinate and inspire like few others can. In Africa and elsewhere, they are already doing most of the work.
Second, despite all the West does to remove religion from politics, it should recognize that elsewhere faith is inseparable from the fabric of everyday life. So much so that the power of faith could be the key to offering Africa – and all countries of the South – refuge from an increasingly uninhabitable planet.
Muhammed Magassy is a member of the National Assembly of The Gambia for Basse