Opinion: The tortuous road to climate justice

Fazal Masood Malik & Farhan Khokhar, Canada

The choice of venue and leadership for the latest COP28 climate conference stirred controversy. Hosting the summit in Abu Dhabi, a major oil and gas hub, and selecting Sultan Al Jaber, an industry executive, as chairperson cast doubt regarding potential fossil fuel influence. This immediate perception challenge was viewed by some environmental advocates as an intentional affront. However, other pragmatic voices sought to reserve judgement, wanting instead to gauge COP28’s capacity to deliver tangible climate progress despite the questionable optics surrounding both the location and leadership of the event. 

As with other multilateral efforts under UN and ICC auspices, substantial progress continued to prove difficult at COP28. The persistent impasse between Global North and Global South countries remains a deeply entrenched divide, blocking consensus. Similarly, tensions between wealthy and developing nations, often stymieing these critical international dialogues, still need to be addressed in a more equitable fashion.

In the end, COP28 failed to deliver climate justice by most measures. Despite over 100 countries backing a definitive fossil fuel phase-out, including vulnerable small island states and major European powers, the final text omitted such a commitment. Instead, watered-down wording called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade.” (www.ox.ac.uk/news/2023-12-13-expert-comment-it-remarkable-how-much-we-agree-cop28-and-transition-fossil-fuels)

For many supporters of bold action, this deal represented another compromise producing inequitable outcomes. Without unified steps to curb emissions at their main source – carbon-intensive energy – already impacted communities will continue shouldering the gravest climate consequences.

An agreement with loopholes bigger than an oil tanker!

Despite the European Commission’s pronouncement that COP28 represents the inception of fossil fuels’ demise, substantial doubt persists regarding its capacity to meet stated climate objectives. While affirming the agreement as forward progress, achieving the critical 1.5°C warming threshold will undeniably prove even more challenging now.

The much-lauded “loss & damage fund” remained on the books with promises of billions of dollars. Nevertheless, it fell short of the actual economic catastrophe faced by smaller nations.

Attention turns to COP29 and whether selecting another hydrocarbon-reliant nation, Azerbaijan, as host in 2024 can shift the justice needle. Will equitable accountability and collective ambient preservation finally prevail?

Solving the entwined dilemma of just environmental stewardship demands a strategic approach in which Western, more developed nations accept responsibility for the harm and developing countries learn from the mistakes of the past. Working together, the world must strive towards saving Pacific island nations who are on the brink of an inevitable environmental disaster, a taste of which is now seen by prosperous countries through their own extreme climate change.

No simple policy can instantly launch a worldwide transformation on the scale climate science demands. Funds and technical assistance alone cannot redress the toxic legacy trailing vulnerable nations. Nor will voluntary carbon trading or eventual emissions regulation sustain most at-risk peoples and ecosystems. Avoiding 1.5°C warming requires not just decarbonisation but also proactive actions from the very people demanding such.

An ethical reckoning is needed before realigning incentives and power structures towards environmental justice. This responsibility extends across borders and generations. Our present path sees those least culpable for destabilising Earth’s climate left grappling with irreparable loss and damage. From fire-ravaged forests to flooded cities, the costs accumulate for communities with minimal resources to absorb or escape such shocks. Each year, lost to obstructions and half-measures, further forecloses possibilities for humans to thrive.

There is another angle for humanity to consider: old-fashioned living within our means. While tackling climate meltdown demands sweeping systemic change, the quest for sustainability begins from within. Beyond reforming corrupted policies and processes, each of us must reflect on how our values and behaviours impact the planet. 

Islam teaches that true happiness does not stem from material excess, but from spiritual fulfilment through righteous living. 

The Islamic emphasis on moderation (Surah al-Furqan, Ch. 25: V.68 and Surah al-A’raf, Ch. 7: V.32) extends to ecological spheres as well, urging followers to live simply within their means. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.61) A life lived mindfully and within means will help curb lifestyles that drive resource depletion and result in emissions escalation. Channelling savings towards community uplift (zakat) rather than individual indulgence synchronises with religious directives to show compassion for the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

Our climate reckoning thus implicates questions of both personal and global responsibility. Self-reflection is the crucial key that must be utilised before having a more extensive discussion on the global environment.

Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, has reminded us to reflect on our internal environment by asking ourselves if we offer prayers as they were meant to be. Do we treat humanity with kindness and respect? Do our words reflect peace, and do our deeds promote harmony? If so, this goodwill can inspire the system-wide change Earth demands.

Every one of us must start from within, realigning priorities before seeking transformation. An Islamic ethic guided by social justice is the only way to redefine notions of sustainable development for the challenging future ahead.

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