The Jakarta Post
A recent wave generated by Pope Francis's papal letter calling for action on climate change has hit Indonesian coasts. Not long ago, the country's own religious leaders convened for a seminar to discuss the stance of religion in addressing climate change issues.
Present at one of Muhammadiyah's halls were representatives from the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI), Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science (IFEES), and the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC).
Throughout the two-hour interfaith dialogue, the speakers, joined by the President's Special Envoy on Climate Change Rachmat Witoelar, reiterated the importance of Indonesia's religious communities in mitigating global climate change.
Islam tells mankind to be a khalifah (leader) on the earth through Al-Baqarah: 30, which says: 'When your Lord said to the angels, 'Indeed I am going to set a viceroy on the earth.''
'Unfortunately, humans often mistake this as a permission to exploit the planet,' says Abdul Halim Sani, Technical Advisor to the MDMC. In Al-Isra: 44, it is said that: The seven heavens glorify Him, and the earth [too], and whoever is in them.
'This verse indicates that the planet has some kind of 'consciousness, imploring us to look at nature as something to nurture, not as a mere object to exploit.'
The Muslim community has contributed to addressing climate change in several ways, according to Fachrudin Mangunjaya of IFEES. In 2010, IFEES launched the Muslim Seven-Year Action Plan on Climate Change, promoting the concept of environmentally-friendly pilgrimage.
The latter requires jemaah (masses) to bring their own tumbler, pick up trash, and engage in other actions that could alleviate climate change.
On top of this, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has recently issued a fatwa (edict) to protect endangered animals in order to maintain ecological balance, confirming that the tenets of the world's second largest religion encouraged conservation.
Similarly, Christianity condemns natural resource exploitation. 'Climate change is a humanity problem,' contends Father Paulus C. Siswantoko, Executive Secretary of KWI's Justice and Peace Commission. 'It results in water scarcity and unpredictable weather. Both could potentially threaten our food security.'
These concerns echo what Pope Francis said in his encyclical last month: that human activities cause climate change. The Pope proposed two pathways to start healing the ecology. First, to encourage dialogue to encourage people's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and second, to promote education that will enable behavioral change ' for children and adults alike.
Gomar Gultom, the General Secretary of Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), introduced his own method to inspire change within the Christian community, departing from what Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz calls 'the decade of greed'.
'In order to turn the wheel, we need to promote 'frugal spiritualism', that introduces a new dimension of self-control to be considerate in spending and using natural resources,' he proposes.
He believes that Christianity strongly upholds the inherent value in Mother Nature. Genesis 1:10 and its following verses state that 'God saw that it (earth) was good'. This could be taken to mean that God values the universe separately from humans, and even made an agreement with it (Genesis 9:9-10).
Globally, Indonesia was responsible for 3.9 percent of the world's emissions between 1990-2012 ' putting it as the sixth largest emitter after China, United States, European Union, India and Russia. Most of Indonesia's emissions profile comes from its agricultural activities, peat fires, as well as land use and forestry sectors, comprising almost 84.6 percent of its overall emissions.
In 2009, Indonesia pledged to orchestrate a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from business as usual by 2020 on its own accord, or potentially 41 percent with international assistance. To further strengthen this commitment, world leaders will reconvene in Paris at the end of this year to discuss their new reduction targets post-2020. These goals are known as the Intended Nationally Determined Goals (INDCs).
For a country that upholds 'the belief in one God' as its first principle, it is not entirely impossible to consider that religion could motivate an ambitious but fair goal to be announced in the upcoming negotiations.
Approaching environmental challenges from a religious perspective might well be the way to go; after all, almost 84 percent of world's population practices a religion. If you're in a room with 560 decision-makers, chances are that 470 of them will at least consider what their respective religion has to say about the problem. Religion instills values in our everyday lives, and 'everyday life' primarily describes what conserving the environment is about.
In other words, religious leaders have strategic roles not only in raising the awareness of their congregations, but also in encouraging them to make real change.
Some religions disagree on what you can and cannot eat, may or may not do, should or should not worship ' but when it comes to climate change, they agree that the environment should not come second.
After all, Mother Earth has no foreseeable substitute; once it's gone, so will our entire civilization. Fastabiqul. Khairat. Pro Deo et Patria.
The writer is a research analyst with World Resources Institute in Jakarta.
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