Muslim world must lead new sustainable development agenda

Muslim world must lead new sustainable development agenda

Muslim world must lead new sustainable development agenda
A worker collects palm oil fruits at a plantation in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. (Reuters/File)
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The world is preoccupied with a pandemic. With more than 2.4 million people dead and 111 million cases, the coronavirus disease crisis has overtaken the priorities of governments everywhere. But it has also distracted attention from a bigger looming crisis. As the pandemic has ravaged societies, global temperatures are now at their highest for at least 12,000 years.

Scientists warn that a warming world might increase the chances of exotic diseases jumping to humans. But the Muslim world doesn’t need to wait for the next pandemic. We are experiencing climate risks right now. Some scientists believe that the so-called Arab Spring uprisings were triggered by food price spikes linked to climate-related extreme weather events like droughts. Indeed, the Muslim world contains some of the most water-scarce countries on the planet. Other scientists warn that parts of the Muslim world may even become uninhabitable due to climate change in just three decades.

These are worst-case scenarios of course, but they give us sound reason to believe that, if we continue like this, food security across the Muslim world could dramatically decline. Such a prospect not only threatens the lives, livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people — it could also spark and inflame conflicts and even topple governments.

Already, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 2 billion people don’t have access to regular food and 3 billion can’t afford healthy diets. In a future of potential pandemics and worsening climate disaster, this dire state of affairs will only worsen, threatening global stability indefinitely.

That is why we need bold new initiatives across the Muslim world to strengthen our responses to climate change. For too long, Muslim countries have followed the lead of Western nations on the global environmental agenda. This has had the negative consequence of creating an unequal playing field, in which developing nations end up playing second fiddle to Eurocentric approaches that often ignore our specific challenges and concerns. Chief among them, of course, is the right to sustainable development.

For too long, Muslim countries have followed the lead of Western nations on the global environmental agenda.

Dr. Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali

In recent years, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have been relegated to a footnote in history, rather than an urgent priority. That is why, for instance, the technocratic emphasis on reducing carbon emissions has tended to translate into penalizing countries in the Muslim world that are still on their nascent development paths, while protecting some of the dirtiest Western industries.

Europe, for instance, continues to subsidize fossil fuels, as well as its own polluting biofuels industries, while branding itself a fighter against tropical deforestation. As Europe’s own forests have been decimated in recent years, the continent has blocked countries like my own from selling palm oil in the name of protecting forests — even though international nongovernmental organizations such as Mighty Earth and Global Forest Watch have acknowledged that our sustainable palm oil scheme has successfully slowed the rate of deforestation year on year.

We do not pretend to be perfect, but when environmentalism is used to rubber-stamp double standards, everyone is hurt — especially the planet.

That is why we need a new, revitalized approach. The Muslim world bears the brunt of climate impacts and ecological degradation. But, in many cases, we also hold the solutions. Instead of waiting for Western nations to produce the answers, or tell us what to do, we need to work far more closely together.

I am calling for a new global Muslim partnership on the environment, in which we work together, sharing our skills, expertise, experience and resources, while opening new channels for trade and scientific partnerships. Our first priority should be shifting toward sustainable sources of food production through new regional programs of engagement and investment.

Based on this revitalized agenda, the Muslim world can develop a coherent voice on our biggest global challenges, offering a compelling balance to that of Western institutions on behalf of all developing nations. With a common global platform, the Muslim world can join with our Western allies as equals upholding an inclusive environmental agenda for all.

• Dr. Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali is Malaysia’s Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

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