In the 41st round of the Cairo Climate Talks, religious scholars from different backgrounds tried to connect the dots between Islam, Christianity, and taking care of the environment in Egypt, in light of global climate change movements.
The panel discussion brought together professor of English literature at Azhar University Salah El-Nefeily, pastor of the cavern church in old Cairo Angelos Guirguis, and pastor of the evangelical community in Cairo Stephan El-Karsheh.
The discussion aimed to bring a new perspective to climate change talks by trying to link human environmental behaviour to religious references. However, the panellists mainly highlighted the fact that preaching alone can never be enough to develop more environmentally friendly behaviour and hence, avoid climate change effects. They stated that there needs to be a more integrated strategy which involves legislative efforts, mechanisms to enforce it, in addition to education, and political changes.
According to El-Nefeily, the emerging crime of illegal trade of wildlife, which has been widely criticised especially in Africa, is already prohibited in Islam. “It is not allowed to kill animals just for the fun of it. Only for the need of food,” he said, citing a prophet saying.
In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include specific targets to end poaching. The General Assembly also unanimously adopted a resolution to tackle illicit trafficking in wildlife.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said on World Wildlife Day in March that human activities pose the main threat to wildlife.
There are several other behaviours towards nature that were recommended by Prophet Muhammad that people need to be reminded of, according to El-Nefeily. These include taking initiative to remove harm from the street, and generally consider the environment in daily activities.
However, he said the government should apply laws and fines, and put them into effect. “If we do not have applicable laws, then it does not mean anything,” he said.
On the other hand, Guirguis identified obstacles that make it harder to incentivise individuals to adopt those environmental measures.
“Individuals only take care of their belongings, cleaning their gardens, and their homes, but they do not care if they have clean streets or not,” he said. This is not an act against religious manners in Christianity, according to Guirguis, but a result of alienation that emerged over the past years from individuals towards society.
“People simply do not feel that the country is theirs anymore. It is not only a religious problem, but also a political one,” he said.
He recommended to outline more solid strategies when it comes to protecting the environment in Egypt. “Our main issue in Egypt is that we always have a broad view of things,” he said.
“We acknowledge the need to clean the streets, for example, but we never mention how exactly and where the waste shall go and how this process shall be monitored. All initiatives in this direction are simply doomed without clear strategies, no matter how much we preach about it,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, El-Karsheh highlighted a connection between the ecological movement and poverty movements. On the local level, he suggested that poverty is a big issue when it comes to taking care of the environment in Egypt. He claims that poor people are more constrained to take certain environmental measures, which was criticised by other panellists who disagreed.
However, Al-Karsheh noted that randomly building houses on agricultural land is an example to his suggestion that some people cannot give up their houses in order to preserve the environment. Other panellists disagreed, saying that this is linked to education, not poverty, referring to people at higher standards who are often seen littering garbage from their cars.
In 2015, Pope Francis published an encyclical on the environment. This was the first Papal encyclical of its kind to tackle this issue. In it, Francis highlighted significant ecological problems in the natural environment, and in the human sphere.
He also recommended that the Church needs to increase its efforts in this regard and to engage people in this cause.
2015 was the warmest year in history, with a global rise in temperature of 1 C, according to a report released by the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in March. This change was attributed to human industrial and environmental malpractices.