Catholic agencies sign Climate Compact to help combat climate change

Catholic agencies sign Climate Compact to help combat climate change

Corn is seen in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, in this 2009 file photo. Three years of drought in Central America have destroyed crops of corn and beans, leaving families starving and causing Guatemala to declare a true state of emergency, said Catholic Relief Services officials. (Credit: CNS)

Catholic service organizations have entered into an NGO Climate Compact pledging a thorough review of their operations.

NEW YORK — More than 80 NGOs, including major Catholic service organizations, have entered into a Climate Compact pledging a “concerted, unified, and urgent action to address climate change,” through a full-scale review of their operations.

The compact was announced on April 22, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of Earth Day, and includes the participation of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Jesuit Refugee Service USA (JRS).

Organizations have agreed to renew their commitments in four major areas: education and advocacy; cross-sectoral programs; internal operations at headquarters and field offices; and learning, through an initial two year commitment, which will be assessed by InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs, which has organized the Compact.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, told Crux that the idea of the Compact began at a retreat for NGO leaders and that rather than viewing climate care as an area of competition, he said that leaders felt that it was an area where they could collaborate and share best practices.

The three-page agreement acknowledges that the organizations “must move faster and take bolder action than we ever have before,” and Callahan said that each entity will consider how the principles of the Compact “relates to our operations, our programming, field offices, headquarters, our transportation, our technology,” and will also consider “how does it affect the participants in our programs and local partners.”

“We wanted to be clear and transparent,” he said of the agreement. “It couldn’t just be aspirational, but we needed to be declarative on it.”

Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of JRS/USA, told Crux that signing on to the agreement was a natural fit for the mission of her organization.

“JRS recognizes that climate change is a critical factor in the current massive displacement of people from their homes globally,” she said. “Millions of people have been forcibly displaced because of significant weather events, and others have been slowly driven from their homes and livelihoods because of changing weather patterns.”

“Not only can climate change be a direct contributor to the displacement of people, but in many of today’s conflicts causing forced displacement the effects of climate change, such as drought or scarcity of resources, have exacerbated and/or accelerated social and political issues or tensions,” Rosenhauer continued. “Knowing these impacts on the people we accompany and serve, we thought it was important to sign on to the NGO Climate Compact.”

Concretely, the Compact commits organizations to the reduction of emissions and waste, to engaging organizational boards on issues related to fossil fuels and deforestation, and ensuring that minority and marginalized communities are not neglected in programming.

“As a sector that’s committed to the human dignity of people,” said Callahan, “we want to promote collective action” on the issue of caring for the environment.

Callahan said that the Compact has also energized his own team, which sees this as a natural extension of their mission.

“They know that the most vulnerable people are also vulnerable to these big swings in the climate, whether it be increased droughts or increased flooding,” he told Crux. “Our workforce is one that wants to do the right thing and is dedicated to serving people and they see serving people as protecting the environment for those people.”

Yet while the agreement includes a range of participating organizations, both Callahan and Rosenhauer said that the fact that Pope Francis has made the environment a priority has been motivating force not just for their respective Catholic organizations but something the entire international community has appreciated.

“There is no question that the leadership of Pope Francis has led Catholic agencies to pay much more attention to issues related to the environment,” said Rosenhauer. “An example is the Society of Jesus, which has asked all of its missions and ministries, through its Universal Apostolic Preferences adopted last year, to ‘collaborate for the protection and renewal of God’s Creation.’ For JRS/USA, this commitment is an extension of our Gospel call to care for the most vulnerable.”

“To have someone like the Holy Father who has come out on these issues,” said Callahan, “it inspires us to do it, but also holds our feet to the fire to make sure we’re actually doing it.”

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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