A game changer: Global bishops call for just, binding agreement at COP21

Presidents of global bishops conferences uphold common good, ask for decarbonization and care for the poor in dramatic appeal aimed at upcoming international climate talks in Paris

In the immediate aftermath of the Synod of Bishops on Families, which wrapped up yesterday, the presidents of the continental Associations of Bishops’ Conferences made this afternoon in Rome a dramatic appeal to the negotiating parties and heads of state who will be working towards an international climate agreement this December at COP 21 in Paris.

Stressing the importance of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, the episcopal signatories “join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all.”

With the declaration signed by the presidents of all the continental Associations of Bishops’ Conferences—including the United States and Canada—the appeal is a game changer. With their five-continent consensus, the bishops demonstrated that international agreements about climate change are possible. And in offering the statement “on our own behalf and on behalf of the people for whom we care,” the bishops show that Pope Francis has allies on climate issues.

“We join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all based on principles of solidarity, justice and participation,” the bishops state. “This agreement must put the common good ahead of national interests. It is essential too that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants.”

The appeal importantly calls for climate polices that seek to limit global temperature increases "to avoid catastrophic climatic impacts, especially on the most vulnerable communities."

"While deploring the dramatic impact of rapid climate change on sea levels, extreme weather events, deteriorating ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity, the Church is also witness to how climate change is affecting vulnerable communities and peoples, greatly to their disadvantage." From the bishops's appeal

While some Catholic eco-activists have expressed disappointment that the bishops are silent on what that temperature target should be, values put froth during the press announcement by climate scientist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele are global average temperature increases of no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Saying no to fossil fuels

The bishops insist that international efforts “limit a global temperature increase and … set a goal for complete decarbonisation by mid-century, in order to protect frontline communities suffering from the impacts of climate change, such as those in the Pacific Islands and in coastal regions.”

In making this pitch, the bishops recognize that excessive reliance on fossil fuel is a primarily driver in accelerated climate change. They call not only for “drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses,” but also for ending the fossil fuel era.

They also note awareness that this will demand different efforts and sacrifices across the globe.

“There is, we agree, a common but also differentiated responsibility of all nations,” the appeal states. “Different countries have reached a different stage on the development spectrum. The need to work together in a common endeavor is imperative.”

The bishops’ ten points

Drafters of the document have pointed out that the bishops ten-point proposal is based on the concrete experience of people across continents—such as African farmers facing droughts, North American fisherman seeing shifts in species as oceans warm, and increased rain intensities throughout the world, to name a few.

The appeal also links climate change to social injustice and the social exclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens.

“We the Presidents of the continental associations of Episcopal Conferences call on the COP21 negotiators in Paris to come in December to a binding agreement in order to avert the dangers of climate change." Cardinal Gracias

The ten points include keeping in mind “not only the technical but particularly the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change;” accepting that climate and the atmosphere are global common goods that belong to all and meant for all; adopting a fair, transformational and legally binding global agreement by keeping in mind the needs of human rights for all, “including those of Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and workers;” developing new models of development and lifestyles that are climate compatible and that address inequality and bring people out of poverty—including “[putting] an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions, including emissions from military, aviation and shipping, and providing affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy access for all;” and “clear roadmaps on how countries will meet the provision of predictable, consistent, and additional finance commitments, ensuring a balanced financing of mitigation actions and adaptation needs.”

Signatories include Oswald Cardinal Gracias (President of Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences ), Peter Cardinal Erdo (Preident of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences), Cardinal Reinhard Marx (President of the Commission of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union), Ruben Cardinal Salazar (President of the Episcopal Council of Latin America and the Caribbean), His Beatitude/Eminence Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai (President of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient), Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi (President of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé and Principe), Archbishop John Ribat (President of Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania), Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and Bishop David Douglas Crosby (President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops).

The presser for the announcement included a moving plea by Archbishop John Ribat, who has seen first hand the impacts on people from rising seas. "Our survival is at stake," he said.

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele de Strihou, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium, former Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also spoke at the announcement.

Initial reactions

Announcing the document this morning in Rome, Cardinal Gracias said that “we the Presidents of the continental associations of Episcopal Conferences call on the COP21 negotiators in Paris to come in December to a binding agreement in order to avert the dangers of climate change. It is our responsibility to convey, with a clear and confident voice, the message of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si’ of caring for the earth and caring for the poor.”

Church leaders at the press conference highlighted that climate change is already a reality in all regions and that climate impacts and risks are particularly high for Small Island States, coastal regions, and those working in agriculture, with tragic consequences for poor communities.

The bishops also emphasized that the wealthy countries, producing and consuming the largest proportion of carbon-based energy, have real responsibilities towards poorer countries.

The appeal was written in collaboration with the Catholic aid network CIDSE (“Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité” ) and Caritas Internationalis, and with the sponsorship of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Those on the ground throughout the world are already applauding the appeal.

“We feel that this document, as well as the encyclical Laudato Si’, underpin the work many Catholic groups worldwide are doing for climate justice,” said CIDSE Secretary General Bernd Nilles.

With this bombshell of a document just released, you can be sure there will be more reactions and news in the coming days and weeks.

For now, you should read the document here. And as always, stay tuned for more …

Photo: CIDSE

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.