Participants agree to use their influence to push for faster universal access to renewable energy, even as they preach end to deforestation
Has time ever been ripe for faiths and religious leaders to campaign for universal access to clean energy in Africa? Truth is, time was ripe yesterday, and if religious leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand, they will be guilty of promoting climate injustice by inaction and helping humans to engineer their own extinction brought about by global warming.
This was the overarching message at a roundtable convened by GreenFaith in Ghana on Wednesday 7, 2022, in which stakeholders, including faith leaders, called for scaling up of awareness on the role all have in climate action, and the need to stop new fossil fuel projects in Africa.
“We appreciate commitment by our partners in Ghana to start these series of conversations that will see the country’s plan for a 100 per cent just transition to renewable energy expedited under the multifaith and multistakeholder campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said GreenFaith’s Director of Organizing, Meryne Warah, adding: “Green faith envisions a movement where leaders can take their rightful place in the community and lead actions.”
Pollution from fossil fuel-backed development in the global North is responsible for the global warming that has led to extreme weather events causing massive loss of lives and property and pushing victims to poverty.
While Africa is responsible for only nearly 4 percent of the global carbon emission, it has suffered most during disasters for lack of requisite technologies, infrastructure and financial muscle to enable it to fund proper mitigation and adaptation to climate change, or even rescue its vulnerable populations from climate induced loss and damage.
Besides, Africa’s economies continue to suffer at the slightest exposure to pandemics, as was the case with Covid-19 in 2020, as well as drought or flooding as recently witnessed in the Horn of Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, or the cyclones in Southern Africa.
But why would faith institutions and people of Ghana push, when the country has recently launched an Energy Transition Plan for 2022-2070, with a roadmap to shift to renewable energy?
According to Alhaji Uthman Raji Abubakar, a faith leader at the Accra meeting, lack of political goodwill is a hindrance to faster transition to renewable energy.
“If we listen without interrogating what they (politicians) say because we call them leaders, it puts us in problems. Not all the leaders are good. Some go into leadership with interests,” he said.
Others opined that extraction from crude oil had been going on in Ghana for years, but without benefiting the people. Africa Centre for Energy and Environment Sustainability Executive Director, Sheikh Nurideen Abdulai, said: “Ghana’s energy mix is being served from four sources; oil and gas, electricity, bio energy, hydroelectric and renewable resources. We still see a lot of fuel companies as credible although a lot of harm to the environment is caused by them. Illegal location of fuel stations in Ghana has destroyed the environment.”
He added: “More and more religious people are concerned about climate change but are silent because they do not know how to relay the information in a manner that will not affect their religion.”
Also in focus was the faith communities’ contribution to the existing environmental problems, and if they were really leading by example in the efforts to stop investment in pollutant projects. “Faith institutions do heavy investments, but is due diligence done to know what the money does,” posed Ms Warah, saying: “Transformation comes from within. The faiths community is building a resilient grassroots multifaith movement in the spirit of leaving no one behind.”
Several other speakers emphasised the need for faith leaders to take their rightful place in the community, acknowledging that more religious people are concerned about climate change but do not know the right way to voice it without interfering with their religious beliefs.
Sheikh Abudulai further said: “Religious leaders are the direct link to the grassroots and therefore need to understand the dynamics of these communities and the impacts of extraction activities on their lives.”
Alhaji Uthman Raji Abubakar, also speaking at the meeting, said a mind reset was necessary among intellectuals and political leaders.
“Empowering women and young people with knowledge can help in the adaptation process. We as spiritual leaders have a lot of influence on the lives of our followers. A lot of the time women are the majority in our worship places. Influencing them makes advocacy easy,” said Elvis Oppong Mensah, the Programme Officer, Forest Governance and Climate Change, Ghana.
Ms Warah said in the spirit of leaving no one behind in the climate justice call, faith leaders needed to reach out to everyone. “Transformation comes from within. GreenFaith is building a resilient grassroots multi-faith community to birth the changes and impact we all want to see around. We educate and train faith leaders to become activists in their society, being the voice of the voiceless.”
Nobel Wager, speaking at the event, said discussions around oil existed, but a lot of people shied away from them.
A Chief Imam said humans were shepherds and would need to account for how they took care of their sheep (earth and everything in it).
“We all bow to Allah. The trees, land and everything on earth all bow to him. So why destroy them? This means you are destroying worship!” he said.
Cognizant of the stated realities, religious leaders, the stakeholders at the event held in Accra, vowed to use their influence more to enlighten their followers on proper action as well as what they should ask of their government in regard to 100 per cent transition to renewable energy.
The meeting, attended by GreenFaith Circle leaders, multi-faith religious leaders, civil society partner organisations, and other community leaders finally designed a “Keep It In The Ground Ghana (KIITGG)” campaign and a related messaging strategy targeting fossil fuel projects. They also mapped out training needs and plans on how such would be addressed.