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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Why Taking Action on Climate Change is an Islamic Obligation

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With an estimated population of 1.8 billion in more than 56 Muslim-majority countries, Muslims make up 23% of the world’s population. Muslim countries are generally developing nations and do not top the list of largest carbon-emitting nations. But they will need to be part of the conversation and the solution to this global crisis.

Islamic thinking in the contemporary world has often focused on issues such as radicalism, terror, security, and how to engage with the legacy of Western imperialism and the emergence of modern science. Climate change and environmental sustainability do not yet occupy an important place.

The pioneering work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr on an Islamic understanding of the care of creation has only occasionally stimulated further research and action. Nasr has drawn on the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions within the Islamic tradition to argue the importance of the environment and human responsibility to protect it. In the intervening years, global concern has shifted from sustainability and the loss of biodiversity to the urgent and serious threats posed by human-induced climate change.

Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Faced with this deepening crisis, Muslim eco-activists and scientists released an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. This declaration arose out of a symposium held in Istanbul shortly before the Paris climate summit in 2015. The declaration reconciles climate science with relevant Quranic wisdom.

The declaration is under no illusions: each person is called to be a “caretaker or steward (khalifah)” in the new epoch. The current rate of climate change cannot be sustained and “we are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet”. There is a stark acknowledgement of humanity’s failure to fulfil its role of khalifah and the effect of such abuse on the created order.

The declaration concludes with a series of calls. These are calls to be accountable. There are specific policy-based calls to well-off nations, oil-producing states and corporations, as well as the finance and business sectors.

The declaration concludes with a call for all Muslims:

wherever they may be […] to tackle habits, mindsets, and the root causes of climate change, environmental degradation, and the loss of biodiversity in their particular spheres of influence, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and bring about a resolution to the challenges that now face us.

The declaration draws heavily on the Quran, but with texts isolated to support the general direction of the argument without mounting a sustained theology. Criticism of the declaration has labelled it “defensive, if not apologetic” and claimed it falls short in asking questions “in the magnitude of today’s environmental crisis”. Nevertheless, by describing the science of climate change with invocation of Quranic claims, the declaration roots the problem in the heart of Islam, which Muslims cannot ignore.

Taking action on climate change is an Islamic obligation

The global harm caused by human activity is at a critical point. According to Islamic law, containing the harm is a priority. Caring for the environment and action to limit and even reverse climate change must be at a level of obligation (fard) for Muslim people, organisations and governments.

There are two types of obligations in Islamic law: fard al-‘ayn (individual obligation) and fard al-kifaya (collective obligation). The latter means that if a group of Muslims fulfil the duty, the obligation is lifted from other Muslims. Caring for the environment can be considered as fard al-‘ayn and fard al-kifaya at the same time.

From the perspective of activism, the possibility of environmental protection can also be covered by the Islamic concept of jihad, especially for individual Muslims and Muslim organisations. In the Islamic religious sense, jihad is an important umbrella concept. It concerns all personal struggles that one has to overcome to achieve success.

If one dimension of jihad means struggle against harmful forces for a virtuous outcome and cause, environmental activism becomes a form of jihad. Peaceful activism launched with sincere intentions against sources and forces that cause harm to the environment is a legitimate form of jihad that God will reward in the afterlife, as Islamic teachings promises.

Every individual and household has a measurable carbon footprint. Unless individuals take action to reduce their footprint, the harm caused to the environment will not reduce: it will get worse. Since damage to the Earth is increasing and existing levels of activism are not reversing the situation, it becomes an individual obligation on every Muslim.

This does not mean the obligation is lifted from organised groups of Muslims who have greater resources, funding and capability. There is also a collective obligation on organised groups. Every Islamic organisation and institution must be involved in environmental protection. At the very least, every organisation can reduce its carbon footprint, by having a deliberate, eco-friendly operation, and educate staff and the community they serve on the need to care for the environment.

Yet even these actions would not be sufficient. There is a further obligation on governments of Muslim-majority countries, because the cultural and economic policies of a country have a major influence on its carbon footprint. Muslim countries must also actively work to influence global policies on climate change through international organisations.

Reversing the impact of climate change requires all people to make sacrifices. They need to consume less and produce less waste. Through its theology of the environment and the power of its ethical stance, Islam, along with other world religions, can facilitate this critical outcome.

Courtesy: The Conversation


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Sweet Sorghum offers Solutions in Drought-hit Southern Africa

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By Hamond Motsi

The southern African region is battling with drought at present. This is the result of El Niño, a natural climate cycle characterised by changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has effects on global weather patterns, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The drought has hit the region’s agricultural productivity hard. MalawiZambia and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster with respect to their current agricultural outputs. They are seeking humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid to feed their people. The downturn also has economic implications, since over 70% of people residing in the region’s rural areas rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The dire situation underscores how important it is for the agricultural sector to prevent, avoid or prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will also bring extremes of weather.

One measure the sector can take is to cultivate biofuel crops. These are crops rich in starch, sugar or oils that can be converted into bioethanol directly or through a fermentation process. Bioethanol, a type of ethanol produced from biological or plant based sources, emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal. Commonly used biofuel crops include sugarcane, maize, grain sorghum, sugar beet, rapeseeds and sunflower.

These conventional biofuel crops do have drawbacks, however. They are highly susceptible to extreme weather events. They require high upfront investment for fertilisers, chemicals and irrigation. And they compete with food production – if they’re grown as biofuels they can’t also be used as food because of how they have to be processed.

So, researchers are always on the lookout for crops that might be good biofuels without those problems. Sweet sorghum, which is indigenous to the African continent, is one such crop. Unlike the better-known sorghum, it has sweet juice in its stems. In a recent study, I reviewed scientific literature to analyse the potential significance of sweet sorghum to African farmers because of its multipurpose nature and ability to adapt under harsh climatic conditions.

Multiple uses

Sweet sorghum has many uses. It can produce grains, animal feed and sugary juice, making it unique among crops. The grains from sweet sorghum are prepared as steamed bread or porridge malt for traditional beer, as well as in commercial beer production across the continent.

They’re nutritionally rich, with high energy values (342 calories/100 g), proteins (10g/100 grains), carbohydrates (72.7g/100 grains), and fibre (2.2g/100 grains) as well as essential minerals such as potassium (44mg/100 grains), calcium (22mg/100 grains), sodium (8mg/100 grains) and iron (3.8mg/100 grains).

The nutritional value of maize is fairly similar: proteins (8.84g/100 grains), carbohydrates (71.88g/100 grains), fibre (2.1g/100 grains), potassium (286mg/100 grains), calcium (10mg/100 grains), sodium (15.9mg/100 grains) and iron (2.3mg/100 grains).

What sets sweet sorghum apart from a crop like maize is that it’s also resilient in arid climates and has multiple other uses. For instance, it produces a lot of plant material (biomass) as it grows, which is left over after harvest. That’s why it’s useful as animal feed too.

Animal feed is made from what remains once the sweet sorghum crop has been harvested and its grains and stem juice stripped off. The residue is high in nutritional content, which can improve the quality of diets of animals, including cattle. The grains can also be used for animal feed.

The sweet juice in the crop’s stalks is what’s used to create bioethanol. Sweet sorghum contains sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are essential for bioethanol production. Of the conventional biofuel crops I’ve mentioned, only sugarcane yields more ethanol. Studies in the United States have shown that sweet sorghum far outstrips maize when it comes to bioethanol production: it yields 8,102 litres per hectare planted, while maize yields just 4,209 litres per hectare.

Resilient

Perhaps most importantly given the southern African region’s current drought struggles, sweet sorghum is well-suited for cultivation in the sorts of adverse conditions that are typically challenging for conventional biofuel crops.

One of the key characteristics of sweet sorghum varieties is their drought resistance. It allows them to enter a dormant state during extended periods of dryness and resume growth afterwards. Research has shown that, under intense water scarcity conditions, sweet sorghum makes use of its stalk juice to supplement its plant needs.

Sweet sorghum’s ability to withstand low water and nitrogen inputs, as well as its tolerance for salinity and drought stress, makes it an ideal crop for farmers in arid regions. This is why it’s widely used in other parts of the world, including the USBrazil and China.

Investing in sweet sorghum

The continent’s current agriculture value chain is dominated by major crops like maize, wheat and rice, which all originate from outside Africa. Not enough attention is given to crops of African origin, like sweet sorghum, even though it is a multipurpose, hardy crop with great potential for farmers. People are more familiar with sorghum, not the sweet variety, and it is also under-researched.

Governments should be using their agriculture extension services to raise awareness among farmers and consumers about the benefits and practical applications of sweet sorghum in people’s diets.

Developing recipes and secondary or industrial products can enhance the feasibility and awareness of sweet sorghum farming. By investing in research and development, the full potential of sweet sorghum cultivation can be unlocked through governments and the private sector.

Hamond Motsi is a PhD Student in Agriscience, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Lithium Boom: Zimbabwe Looks to China to Secure a Place in the EV Battery Supply Chain

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Chinese investors have flocked to Zimbabwe to secure lithium supplies, promising local development. But analysts warn Zimbabwe needs more robust governance for communities to reap the benefits. Reports Andrew Mambondiyani

Wonder Mushove stared blankly at plumes of red dust billowing into the sky as more than 30 trucks carrying loads of lithium ore rumbled past his newly-built house in Buhera, in eastern Zimbabwe.

The trucks drive by Mukwasi village on the dirt road linking the Chinese-owned Sabi Star lithium mine to the tarred highway. They travel through the border town of Mutare to the port of Beira in neighbouring Mozambique. From there, the lithium-containing minerals are loaded onto ships and exported to China – the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.

The dust hung in the air after the trucks’ passage. Mushove and his family were among dozens of households displaced by the $130million-mining project, which began operating in May. They were relocated to new houses built by the mining company about a kilometre from their old homes.

And yet, Mushove is hopeful the mine could “uplift the area and put it on the world map,” he told Climate Home News. For decades, the vast, hard-rock lithium deposits buried under his home were of little interest to foreign investors. Now, Chinese companies are paying a high price to access Zimbabwe’s reserves – the largest in Africa and among the largest in the world.

A lightweight metal with the ability to store lots of energy, lithium is critical for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. Global efforts to move away from combustion-engine vehicles have pushed demand for the silvery metal, also known as “white gold”, to soar.

Chinese companies have flocked to Zimbabwe’s untapped reserves of high-grade lithium to shore up the country’s supplies, benefiting from the Southern African nation’s cheap labour and deregulated mining sector. In the past two years, Chinese companies invested over $1.4 billion acquiring lithium projects in Zimbabwe.

And more money is on its way. Last year, Chinese companies were awarded licenses that could see $2.79 billion in investment flow into the country, mostly in the mining and energy sectors. These investments could turn Zimbabwe into a key player in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain. Chinese battery manufacturing giant BYD could source some of its lithium from Zimbabwe, after buying a stake in the Chinese owners of the Sabi Star mine.

But Zimbabwe’s poor progress on establishing robust resource governance threatens to keep communities like Mushove’s from seeing any of the benefits, analysts told Climate Home.

While endowed with vast mineral wealth, Zimbabwe has so far failed to turn its underground riches, including diamonds and gold, into revenues for development. Regulatory gapshuman rights abusesillegal trade, and alleged corruption have all been barriers.

recent investigation by NGO Global Witness in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo found that there is a danger of history repeating itself with lithium mining without rigorous screening for corruption and social and environmental harms.

But Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa is betting on the lithium rush to catapult the country into an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. To achieve this, Mnangagwa aspires to turn Zimbabwe into a battery manufacturing hub.

China’s lithium rush

China towers over the lithium-ion battery supply chain. But its own lithium resources are limited and it has sought to secure access to deposits overseas.

Isolated by the West and slapped with 20 years of sanctions because of human rights violations, Zimbabwe has turned towards China, now the country’s largest foreign investor.

Since the 1950s, China’s foreign policy has been guided by “five principles of peaceful co-existence“, including a commitment not to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. This principle, which encapsulates China’s approach, has set it apart from western investors.

Zimbabwe’s “opacity and disregard for human rights has made it cheap for the Chinese to exploit minerals” in the country, said James Mupfumi, director of the Centre for Research and Development, a local NGO advocating for accountability in the natural resource sector.

Zimbabwean law vests all mineral rights to the president. With no requirements to disclose the beneficial owners of mining projects, “there is no due diligence and parliamentary oversight on Chinese investments,” Mupfumi explained.

“Above all, Zimbabwe requires a government that prioritises public accountability of mineral wealth, not the self-enrichment of a few political elites,” he added.

The ministry of mines did not respond to a request for comment.


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

EARTH DAY 2024: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use

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Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, marks a global commitment to environmental protection and sustainability. The first Earth Day took place in 1970, ignited by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who aimed to raise awareness about environmental issues and mobilize action to address them. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into a worldwide movement, engaging millions of people across the globe in activities such as tree planting, clean-up campaigns and advocacy for environmental policies. Its organizer is EARTHDAY.ORG, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental conservation and mobilizing communities to take action for a healthier planet.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics” – a theme chosen to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic to humans, animals and the planet and to promote policies aiming to reduce global plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.

As our chart shows, global plastics use has increased rapidly over the past few decades, growing 250 percent since 1990 to reach 460 million tonnes in 2019, according to the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook, which projects another 67-percent increase in global plastics use by 2040 and for the world’s annual plastic use to exceed one billion tonnes by 2052. As our chart shows, packaging is the largest driver of global plastics use, which is why a rapid phasing out of all single use plastics by 2030 is one of the policy measures proposed under EARTHDAY.ORG’s 60X40 framework.

Other major applications of plastics include building and construction, transportation as well as textiles, with the fast fashion industry particularly guilty of adding to the world’s plastic footprint. “The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments,” the Earth Day organizers write. “Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60 percent more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long.” Most importantly, the organization points out that 85 percent of disposed garments end up in landfills or incinerators, while just 1 percent are being recycled.

  1. Infographic: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use | Statista

Felix Richter is a Data Journalist


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