Imam Khamenei

What are the opinions of Iranian leaders about the environment?

This article has attempted to review the Islamic viewpoint regarding the environment as well as the opinion and actions Imam Khamenei has taken regarding the environment.

Introduction: For about half a century, concerns about global warming have preoccupied environmental activists, and these concerns and fears increase by the day. One thing is completely clear; it is not possible to continue consuming the world’s resources at the current rate. Environmental experts are speaking about the arrival of the moment of crisis. Within the past few decades alone, climate change has turned into one of the main causes of wildfires in jungles.[i] The rising average temperature on the planet, the crisis of a scarcity of water, widespread climate changes and as a result of these the occurrence of hurricanes, floods, seasonal changes, droughts and other such phenomena in many parts of the world point to the fact that we have neglected this beautiful planet that has for millions of years nurtured and hosted its inhabitants with kindness.  However, these events started taking place at the same time that the unparalleled changes in the global economy, particularly over the past half century, prepared the ground for unfavorable environmental conditions. In essence, the current capitalist economic system understands growth and productivity solely in relation to “profitability,” and it prefers the interests of a small number of capitalists over the interests of the majority of human beings and the natural world.[ii] In order to stand up to this important and serious challenge, governments, international organizations, social movements, green parties and concerned environmental experts have already proposed many solutions and initiatives with the aim of examining economic inequities and environmental changes. They have proposed many solutions and initiatives with the aim of making reparations for the negligence of industrial and rich countries, which are the main cause of environmental problems. However, the environmental challenges appear to be too deep to be remedied with the actions and theories of these critics. The horrifying gravity of today’s environmental conditions have gradually drawn increasing attention in the last few decades of the 20th century to the backstage of the dominant politico-economic structures in the world and to the doubts regarding their rationale. Therefore, in order to resolve these environmental crises, the first step is to properly understand the depth of the crisis that has engulfed us.

In addition to environmental ethics, sustainable development, pro-environmental movements and causes, and turning to innovative technologies and non-fossil fuels, it is necessary for us to ponder over other new or completely different strategies in order to change the current unfavorable climatic conditions. It is necessary to turn our attention to environmental strategies that enjoy the support of national policies, which may offer a feasible remedy to the deep, old wounds inflicted on planet earth. We need strategies whose outcome will be different from the outcome of the academic research and articles, which are usually disregarded by decision-makers and not implemented. In the current situation, an effective strategy for resolving the environmental crisis is to reform the political and decision-making structures. A fundamental change in this regard will not be possible solely through popular environmental movements.


The importance of the environment in the opinions of the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran

To a large measure, the constitution of a country reveals that country’s fundamental and long-term approach. In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the environment and the importance of protecting and preserving it have been highlighted in a separate article. Article 50 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states, “In the Islamic Republic, it is the duty of the people to preserve the environment so that the current and future generations may have an improved social life. Consequently, any activity, economic or other, that leads to the pollution of the environment or irreparable damage to it shall be forbidden.” This national and strategic perspective regarding the environment in Iran’s high-level documents may certainly be seen in the statements and opinions of the leaders of the country. Meanwhile, Imam Khamenei, the second and current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has paid a special and widespread attention to the issue of environment more than others. His attention and concern about environmental issues have been to such an extent that a book[iii]  has been written based on his views in this regard. This matter itself is something rare among political leaders and statesmen throughout the world.


The serious concerns of Ayatollah Khamenei on a national level

Imam Khamenei’s bond with the environment is usually limited to his annual symbolic tree planting on the Iranian National Tree Planting Day in the international media. Of course, the fact that a high-ranking official of a country has unfailingly planted a tree on his country’s National Tree Planting Day for 39 years is in itself significant. However, the environmental concerns of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran are not limited to symbolic acts. The environment is so important to him that in the year 2015, and in carrying out Note 1 to Article 110 of the Constitution, he stated the overall environmental policies in a letter to the heads of the three branches of government. Creating a unified national system for the environment, coordinated and systematic management of vital resources, criminalizing damage to the environment, preparing the country’s ecological atlas, strengthening environmental diplomacy, promoting a green economy and institutionalizing environmental ethics and culture were some of the main themes of Imam Khamenei’s letter.[iv] Moreover, Imam Khamenei has always stressed that the issue of protecting the environment must not be thought of being an instrument or just a formality. Rather, he believes, “The issue of the environment and preserving natural resources is not an extravagant issue of secondary importance. It is a vital issue. In our efforts to develop the country, we must give priority to preserving the environment… Even in industrial matters, the preservation of the environment must be emphasized.”[v]

From the perspective of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the environment is not just a national issue. Rather, it is a global issue. For this reason, he has always used opportunities that were available to him on an international level and the facilities at his disposal to improve environmental conditions by drawing attention to this issue. As an example, one can refer to his message to the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in which Imam Khamenei describes humankind’s relationship and interaction with the environment based on respect and justice to be a part of a religious, spiritual life, “It is not befitting for us to consider the program of those who brought mankind the message of deliverance to be limited to the spiritual relationship of individuals with God. It is not befitting for us to think that their program excluded relationships between human beings, between individuals and society, between man and the environment, and the establishment of a social and political system.”[vi] From the Leader’s point of view, the issue of the environment is a global and transnational issue, and his actions have been in line with this principle.

In his analysis of the current environmental crisis, the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that humankind’s profit-minded, selfish ,irresponsible attitude is the main culprit. Of course, this attitude is often manifested in the policy-making of countries at the national level. In his intellectual framework, which is based on an Islamic, monotheistic worldview, human beings are not free to do whatever they want. They are responsible toward each other, toward animals and toward the environment. This responsibility is so serious that Islamic rules and jurisprudence have determined punishments and retributions to be paid for harming animals or damaging the environment. In a meeting with environmental activists in 2015, Imam Khamenei referred to a verse from the Holy Qur’an and clarified the backing for his attitude toward the environment. Referring to part of a verse from the holy Chapter Hud, he said, “He brought you into being from the earth, and made you dwell in it.” [Qur’an, 11:61] He argued that based on the divine view, all beings, including human beings and the environment, are the creations of the Almighty Creator. In this intellectual framework, not only has humankind been ordered to protect the environment, but it has also been instructed to inhabit the earth and use its blessings in an optimal yet equitable way.[vii]

He believes that the attitude of over-exploitation and domination has not only exposed the environment to the danger of destruction, but it has also prevented the maximum development of human capacities and those of the environment.[viii] Along the same lines, in relying on a monotheistic view of nature and the environment, Imam Khamenei states that humankind should have defined his relationship with nature on the basis of justice and respect (which in his view, is possible only in the framework of a spiritual worldview). If this had been done, “Perhaps modern civilization would not have reached this point, and perhaps we could have found new capacities that are currently unknown to us, capacities that could have been millions of times more than what is gained today from water, soil, air, underground materials and the products grown on the surface of the earth.” Of course, the point here is not to disparage the human achievements that have been gained so far. Rather, the point is to maximize human growth and perfection without a need to inflict the kind of environmental damage that we witness today.


The religious and rational backing for Imam Khamenei’s attitude toward the environment

As was mentioned before, today’s research data and statistics show that our kind and generous planet is not in very good condition. In the year 2018, forests the size of a soccer field were destroyed every second.[ix] Every day, two million tons of industrial and agricultural wastewater was dumped into global water sources[x] destroying innumerable plant and animal species as well as natural resources that should have been preserved for future generations. It is obvious that in the current situation, it is very hard to describe the relationship between humankind and the environment to be based on respect. What is even more surprising is that we have reached a point where certain governments shamelessly and openly withdraw from international environmental treaties and accords in a unilateral fashion[xi] so that they may trample on animals, rivers and ecosystems both in theory and in practice. This has happened while the intentional community has been unable to prevent such events. Perhaps this is due in large measure to a lack of support and a lack of seriousness in the stance of the global political structures to protect the environment, which has made it almost impossible to take working, effective steps in this regard. Indeed, when will the long history of human being’s maltreatment and abuse of nature come to an end?


Conclusion and summary

Perhaps ending this over-exploitation requires changing the worldview that dominates the political and decision-making structures of the world; the worldview that sees humankind to be the unhindered center of the universe, defining his/her goal as maximizing use/abuse of other creatures and fellow human beings.





[iii] The Movement for the Protection of the Environment










  • Iran
  • Islam
  • Natural environment
  • Trees