Preparing the way

The shared start of Advent and the UN Climate Change Conference remind us that true ecological conversion begins with the coming of Christ

On the heels of devastating climate disasters around the globe, from California to Kerala, and Tonga to Japan, the twenty-fourth annual United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP24) opened Monday in Katowice, Poland with the goal of finalizing the implementation guidelines for the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Patricia Espinosa, the Climate Chief for the United Nations, said that “this year is likely to be one of the four hottest years on record. Greenhouses gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and emissions continue to rise. Climate change impacts have never been worse. This reality is telling us that we need to do much more—COP24 needs to make that happen.”

The hope for the next two weeks of meetings will be a finalized set of implementation guidelines to “unleash practical climate actions with respect to all the targets and goals of the Paris Agreement, including adapting to climate change impacts, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing financial and other support to developing countries,” according to a UN media release.

“We simply cannot tell millions of people around the globe who are already suffering from the effects of climate change that we did not deliver,” Espinosa said.

The conference is being held on the heels of the Global Warming of 1.5C report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as a cascade of UN and other reports on increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions and on health and other serious impacts.

“All of these findings confirm the need to maintain the strongest commitment to the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to well below 2C and pursuing efforts towards 1.5C,” Espinosa stressed.

“All our focus should be on reaching this aim and on building up ambition towards it.”

Following Sunday’s procedural opening to enable work to begin quickly, Monday was the grand opening ceremony, which included some forty Heads of State and Heads of Government.

A Catholic presence

Descending on Katowice has been a small army of Catholic eco-activists and observers representing groups such as the Global Catholic Climate Movement, CIDSE, and Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa.

Representing Pope Francis was His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, who offered a rousing speech at the opening events.

In that talk, Cardinal Parolin stressed a three-prong approach to climate change:

  • A clear ethical foundation;
  • The commitment to achieving three inextricably interlinked goals: advancing the dignity of the human person, alleviating poverty and promoting integral human development, and easing the impact of climate change through responsible mitigation and adaptation measures; and
  • A focus on meeting both the needs of the present and of the future.

“We are standing before a challenge of civilization for the benefit of the common good,” the cardinal said. “This is clear, as it is also clear that the solutions we have at our disposal are numerous and often within our reach. In the face of such a complex issue as climate change, where the individual or the national response in itself is not sufficient, we have no alternative but to make every effort to implement a responsible, unprecedented collective response, intended to ‘work together to build our common home.’”

O come, O come, Emmanuel

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent offered a worthy, apocalyptic setting for this high-stakes event. This is no small coincidence. Indeed, it is perhaps providence.

While the United Nations and the statesmen present will focus on fiscal and government policies, the Catholic perspective on all this must first be the importance of Emmanuel—God with us.

Because it is only with God’s aid—through his grace—are all things possible.

To resolve the climate crisis will take a change of heart on individual, communal, national, and global levels that have never been seen in human history. Governments and international bodies will play critical roles, but they will not have the wherewithal to elevate the human condition appropriately to correct our current and dangerous trajectory.

What is needed is a global ecological conversion—of the scale and depths that can only come from God’s grace.

Fortunately, present at these talks are groups like the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which have worked diligently and with great faith these past months in preparation for COP24. Central to their work is a call to prayer and liturgy for the good of these talks and the efforts that must follow.

But you don’t have to be in Poland to pray for the UN talks. Check out the GCCM resources to join in the spiritual battle underway.

For now, let us implore the blessings of Almighty God on the Conference of Parties and all who are attending these two-week talks.

In the words of the great hymn of Advent,

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,

Who ordered all things mightily,

To us the path of knowledge show,

And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind,

Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,

And be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to you, O Israel!

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About the Blog

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.