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Climate change has been an issue of great concern for the entire world for the past few years. In the East African region, extreme weather events such as drought and flooding have been occurring with greater intensity and frequency, associated with the climatic variability phenomenon of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The great variability in climate change has had a tremendous impact on the people of East Africa. Adverse effects of climate change are threatening to undo decades of development efforts and frustrate poverty eradication programmes in the Partner States.
As a response to the rising climate change concerns, the East African Community (EAC) created a three-pronged climate policy framework consisting of the East African Community Climate Change Policy (EACCCP), the EAC Climate Change Strategy, to outline implementation of the policy in the short term and the EAC Climate Master Plan to regulate implementation of the policy in the long term. The Policy is founded on three key pillars, namely, adaptation, mitigation and climate change research (monitoring, detection, attribution and prediction)
The Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC has provisions on the management of the environment, including adopting environmentally sound management techniques for the control of land degradation, adopting community environmental management programmes, and promoting enhancement of the quality of the environment through adoption of common measures and programs of tree planting, afforestation and reforestation, soil conservation and recycling of materials. Article 100 of the Treaty on meteorological services seeks to promote collection and dissemination of meteorological information to facilitate efficient early warning and extreme and adverse weather and climatic phenomenon including climate change. The EAC has developed a Protocol on Environment and Natural Resources Management which was signed in 2006
In order to put into effect the proposed strategic actions, the EAC climate policy framework calls for promotion of awareness and facilitating the participation of local communities and civil society organisations. On creating public awareness, the Master Plan recognises that the level of climate change awareness is generally low because climate change is a relatively new and developing concept in the general public. This is despite the necessity of awareness by EAC citizens on the impact of climate change.
This is where faith comes in. The intersection between faith and the environment has been gaining more attention in recent years. Spiritual values drive individual behaviour for more than 80% of people of East Africa. In many countries, spiritual beliefs and religions define cultural values, social inclusion, political engagement and economic prosperity. Faith-based organisations have been recognised as key players in eradicating poverty, improving people’s health, protecting the environment and working toward sustainable development. This then begs the question, has there been any intersection between faith and environmental law and policy-making in the EAC?
Acts and bill
During research for this article, a search of the keywords ‘spirit, religion, belief and faith, environment’ was done on the Acts and proposed bills of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). This search provided very little in terms of intersection between faith and environmental policy-making. Of the 41 total EALA Acts and 36 EALA Bills, only 2 seemed to feature reference to either ‘faith’ or ‘environment’. Unfortunately, none featured a confluence of both as illustrated below
The only Act passed with a provision on either environment or religion was the East African Community Standardisation, Quality Assurance, Meteorology and Testing Act 2006 which states that a compulsory standard must protect the environment. However, no mention of religious or faith values of any kind appears in this legislation
The East African Community Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, 2016 proposes harmonisation of laws, policies and strategies to eliminate female genital mutilation, recognising that several communities including immigrants practice it for different reasons including cultural and religious beliefs. So this bill mentions religious values but is clearly not about the environment
The East African Community Human and Peoples’ Rights Bill, 2011 states that the provisions of this Act on equality shall be qualified to the extent strictly necessary for the application of Islamic law to persons who profess the Muslim faith in relation to personal status, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. However, again, this bill is clearly not about the environment. In fact, from the above survey, none of the bills that touch on environmental policy-making seem to have included any faith-based considerations.
EACJ case la
Two cases touching on faith and environment have been heard at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). In one case, the Tanzanian government was restricted from constructing a road across Serengeti National Park due to concerns about environmental degradation. In another, the Applicants alleged that the Respondent’s enforcement of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic violates religious freedoms and principles outlined in the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. These cases show that the EACJ at the very least recognises and holds in importance the issues of environmental protection as well as the importance maintenance of spiritual and religious freedoms. All that need be done is to find a way to bring the court to recognize the existence of a nexus between the two
The intersection between faith and environmental policy-making in the East African Community seems to be lacking. The Treaty and EALA legislation (Acts and bills) do not make any reference to the belief systems and local community values that would drive environmental preservation. However, the case law suggests that there is room for faith-based organisations to be more involved in environmental policy-making in the East African Community. The networks of faith-based organisations and faith leaders’ cross continents and political boundaries, making it a viable and practical means to achieve sustainable development.
Tapping into the spiritual wealth of people and their beliefs accelerates people’s engagement and the organisational drive to contribute. Mobilising the financial assets and practices of faith-based funding institutions responds directly to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for financing sustainable development. Therefore, it is important for policymakers to engage with faith-based organisations to achieve sustainable development goals and fulfill the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.
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