Pope Francis’ timely call to action on climate change

BOSTON, June 22, 2015 (IPS) – On June 18, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical about ecology, which promises to be a highly influential document for years to come. The encyclical, which is the most authoritative teaching document a Pope can issue, delivered a strong message addressing the moral dimension of the severe ecological crisis we have caused with our “throwaway culture” and general disregard for our common home, the Earth.

One of the most important points of this document is that it connects the dots between social justice and environmental justice. As a parishioner from Buenos Aires I have seen firsthand how Jorge Bergoglio cared deeply about both issues, and it is beautiful to see how he is bringing them together in this historical encyclical.

Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year.

The most prominent example of this connection is how our role in causing climate change is hurting those who had nothing to do with this crisis, namely the poor and future generations.

Although the encyclical will have an impact on Catholic teaching for generations to come, its timing at this particular juncture is no accident. As the Pope himself stated, “the important thing is that there be a bit of time between the issuing of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, so that it can make a contribution.”

The Paris meeting he referred to is the crucial COP21 summit that the United Nations will convene in December, where the world’s governments are expected to sign a new treaty to tackle human-made climate change and avoid its worst impacts.

This is significant because the international climate negotiations have been characterized by a consistent lack of ambition during the past two decades, allowing the climate change crisis to exacerbate. Greenhouse gases emissions have grown 60 percent since world leaders first met in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and continue to accelerate setting the foundation for a severe disruption of the climate system.

Scientists are shouting at us, urging humankind to change course immediately, but we are not listening. That is why strong moral voices such as the one of Pope Francis have the potential to change people’s hearts and overcome the current gridlock.

Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year. Faced with the clear and present threat of climate change, governments have long used the supposed passivity of their citizens as an excuse for inaction.

The climate movement is growing fast and is building up pressure at an increasing scale, but its growth rate needs to be boosted to meet the size of the challenge. Pope Francis’ encyclical has the potential to draw a huge amount of people to the climate movement by inspiring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, as well as non-Catholics who are open to his message, to mobilise in this important year.

Catholics are already responding to the Holy Father’s call by scaling their mobilisation, mainly through the recently founded Global Catholic Climate Movement. This is a coalition of over 100 Catholic organizations from all continents, aiming to raise awareness about the moral imperative of climate change and to amplify the encyclical’s message in the global climate debate by mobilising the Church’s grassroots.

The flagship campaign of the movement is its recently launched Catholic Climate Petition, which the Pope himself endorsed a month ago when we met him in the Vatican, with the goal of collecting at least one million signatures for world leaders gathered in the COP21 summit in Paris. The ask, to be delivered in coalition with other faith and secular organisations, is for governments to take bold action and keep the global temperature increase below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, people of all faiths are coming together with a strong moral call for action through initiatives such as Fast for the Climate – whereby participants fast on a monthly basis to show solidarity with the victims of climate change – and the People’s Pilgrimage – a series of pilgrimages in the name of climate change led by Yeb Saño, former Philippine climate ambassador, and designed to culminate in a descent on Paris around COP21.

Leaders of other faiths will furthermore join their Catholic counterparts in celebration of the encyclical on June 28, when the interfaith march “One Earth, One Human Family” will go to St. Peter’s Square as a sign of gratitude to Pope Francis.

Whatever happens, this year will go down in the history books. Be sure of that. The Pope has made a massive contribution to making sure it’s remembered for all the right reasons. Now it’s our turn to step up and finish the job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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