KUALA LUMPUR (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) – From packed mosques during Friday prayers to the classrooms of thousands of Islamic boarding schools, Indonesia’s Muslim leaders have been urged to use their sermons and influence to boost conservation efforts and win over climate change sceptics.

The country’s top Muslim representatives met last month at Southeast Asia’s biggest mosque, the Istiqlal in the capital Jakarta, to discuss ways to raise awareness about global warming and develop climate solutions linked to Islamic teachings.

The leaders also established a forum – the Muslim Congress for a Sustainable Indonesia – and called for community donations, including alms, to be used to help fund such efforts.

Green campaigners say Muslim leaders and imams can play a key role in fostering greater understanding and action on climate change – and also work with governments to focus on sustainability, not just economic development, in policy.

“Imams or religious leaders are really respected and highly listened to in Indonesia – they can have a big impact on both government policy and citizen action,” said Jeri Asmoro, Indonesia digital campaigner at climate activist group 350.org.

“Imams could effect a lot of social change … seeding awareness of environmentally friendly life and propelling the climate movement at the grassroots level,” he added.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement to tackle global warming, Indonesia – the world’s eighth-biggest carbon polluter – has committed to cut its emissions by 29 per cent by 2030 versus business-as-usual levels and hopes to reach net-zero by 2060 or sooner.

Almost 85 per cent of electricity in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation is generated from fossil fuels, and it is the planet’s top thermal coal exporter.

Also home to a third of the world’s rainforests, Indonesia is the top producer of palm oil and a major source of timber, which green groups blame for forest clearing for plantations.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming emissions produced worldwide, but release carbon back into the air when they rot or are burned.

Indonesia is already suffering the impacts of global warming, with cities and coastal areas hit by regular flooding and rising sea levels, while rural regions often struggle to cope with forest fires and drought.

Zulfira Warta, a climate project leader at WWF-Indonesia, said there was a need for more leadership from Muslim clerics on environmental change among their congregations and communities.

About 90 per cent of Indonesia’s 270 million people are Muslim, while the nation has 800,000 mosques, 37,000 Islamic boarding schools, and more than 170 Islamic-led universities – offering a platform for education and action on a huge scale, he said.

“Imams can contribute a moral and spiritual energy that the climate and environmental movements urgently need,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.