Catholic bishops call for action on Climate Change

In response to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment, the leaders of the regional bishops’ conferences of US, Canada Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe have issued a joint appeal to government leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, which will take place in Paris from 30Nov – 11Dec.

The appeal is an expression of “the anxiety of all the people, all the churches all over the world” regarding how, “unless we are careful and prudent, we are heading for disaster”. It was signed by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, who is the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, at a joint news conference held at the Vatican.

The appeal deliberately omits mention of a specific temperature target for reversing the impact of climate change. That is something scientists must decide. “We’re pastors and we’re not scientists,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. However, he added that the need to act is a moral issue, which the bishops are competent to speak about.

The bishops call upon governments to show “courageous and imaginative political leadership” in the setting up of  legal frameworks that “clearly establish boundaries and ensure the protection of the ecosystem”. Decision makers must recognize that the climate and the atmosphere belong to all and that our planet is “a shared inheritance, who(se) fruits are meant to benefit everyone”. They are therefore urged to set a strong limit on global temperature increase and to promote new models of development and lifestyles that are “climate compatible.”

World leaders are being asked to take into consideration the “ethical and moral dimensions of climate change”. In particular the appeal asks them to make decisions that place people above profits, that involve the poor in decision making, that protect people’s access to water and to land, are particularly mindful of vulnerable communities and are specific in commitments to finance mitigation efforts. This way they can achieve a “fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement”.

The president of the Latin American bishops’ council, Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, emphasised the key role the Amazon basin plays in the survival of South America and the world. He declared that regional bishops didn’t just want an end to pollution, to the destruction of the forests and the disappearance of biodiversity. They also insist on justice for their people, the majority of whom do not benefit from the exploitation of resources taken from their countries.

Archbishop John Ribat from Papua New Guinea, president of the Federation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Oceania, stated “We come from islands, and our life is very much at risk.” He warned that climate change is already leading to the phenomenon of climate refugees. Many vulnerable communities—particularly on Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Carteret Islands— are being impacted by rising sea levels. They are already experiencing the disappearance of land used for subsistence farming or seeing their agricultural land rendered unusable by the infiltration of salt water.

ACN Malta.