UN climate conference must focus on most vulnerable, aid agency says

UN climate conference must focus on most vulnerable, aid agency says

An ear of corn eaten by desert locust is pictured in late June in a field near Lodwar, Kenya. (Credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters via CNS.)

Later this year, world leaders, NGOs, climate will converge on Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 climate summit.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Later this year, world leaders, NGOs, climate will converge on Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 climate summit.

The meeting was originally scheduled for December 2020 to mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris climate agreement but was delayed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

CAFOD, the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, wants to make sure the world’s poorest and most vulnerable are not forgotten at the event.

“What we can’t afford to happen is for those hardest hit by the crisis to be an afterthought for decision-makers in the run-up to the summit and at the conference itself – something Pope Francis warns us is too often the case.,” Liam Finn, CAFOD Campaigns Manager told Crux.

He said developed countries have a responsibility to help struggling communities respond to climate change but insisted that the fight for the soul of the climate can only be won with the participation of everyone.

“Again, the Holy Father makes clear that each of us has a responsibility to play our part in caring for our common home. That’s partly in the choices that we make about what we eat, how we travel, what we buy,” he said.

CAFOD has started a petition calling on the UK government “to achieve net zero emissions honestly, transparently and without caveats by 2045”and to stop “all new public support for fossil fuels overseas” in order to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5° C from pre-industrial levels.

Following are excerpts of Finn’s conversation with Crux.

Crux: How successful do you expect this petition to be?

Finn: We know that thousands of Catholics in England and Wales will be urging Boris Johnson to make sure the communities hardest hit by the climate crisis are at the center of the COP26 discussions. Catholics in this country have been demanding action to end the injustice of the climate crisis for years, signing petitions and lobbying MPs up and down the land, so we know that thousands more will be urging the Prime Minister this year to make sure those communities are heard at COP26. What we can’t afford to happen is for those hardest hit by the crisis to be an afterthought for decision-makers in the run-up to the summit and at the conference itself – something Pope Francis warns us is too often the case.

Is there any evidence that the UK government is already working with partners to help shape the tone of the conversation in the COP26 Summit?

The UK government hasn’t done enough yet to approach and involve partners in the COP26 preparations. A lesson from COP21, which led to the historic Paris Agreement, is that there has to be a relentless and urgent effort from the host country to engage with governments around the world in the run-up to the summit. France is acknowledged to have done this successfully when it hosted the COP in 2015, but we haven’t seen efforts on a similar scale from the UK yet.

But it’s also crucial that the UK works with groups across global society if the summit is going to be a success, meaning that Boris Johnson’s government has to have genuine engagement early on in the process with people in the communities hit hardest by the crisis worldwide, as well as people who are defending their environment from destruction by irresponsible businesses. Faith groups have a huge role to play too as we are at the heart of the most remote, hardest-to-reach communities around the world.

There are constant calls for developed countries to step up for vulnerable countries – particularly in Africa – that are responsible for very little pollution. What should these developed countries be doing to help Africa?

There’s a reason why there’s such an incessant call for support for communities most vulnerable to the effects of the climate emergency: it’s because the communities which are being hardest hit are those who have contributed least to the emissions which are driving temperature rises. It’s a fundamental matter of justice.

But it’s also essential to make sure we support those whose lives are being turned upside down with the loss of livelihoods or homes or loved ones. Pope Francis has reminded us how it’s becoming more and more apparent that something that affects our sisters and brothers in one part of the world affects us all and that we’re called as Catholics to show solidarity and respond to the needs of all members of our global family.

Richer nations should be stepping up and acting on their pledges to provide support for developing countries, ensuring that they can leapfrog old fossil fuel systems and instead use sustainable renewable energy sources to provide power to people, as well as helping communities which are at the forefront of climate disasters to prepare for future emergencies.

And this has to be on top of commitments from governments to put their own house in order and cut emissions. The UK has made progress on this by announcing that it will end its support for fossil fuels overseas, something CAFOD supporters have been campaigning for it to do for years. Other countries should be doing the same, otherwise any harm you’re hoping to prevent by providing support is undermined by continuing to fuel the cause of the harm.

How do you convince African leaders to protect their rain forests, which serve as an important carbon sink for the world, especially since the developed world used forestry to develop their own economies?

Pope Francis has reminded us that the world’s rainforests act as ‘the lungs of our planet’; that it’s utterly false to think we have a choice between protecting our environment and developing our societies and economies.

There’s an increasing recognition that protecting our environment and restoring our common home both creates jobs and generates economic benefits – and that will be a vital part of efforts to rebuild after the pandemic. It’s also critical that governments and businesses ensure that supply chains are free of any abuses of the environment or people living and working in areas with natural resources.

Besides the larger policy issues, how can ordinary people live greener lives?

Again, the Holy Father makes clear that each of us has a responsibility to play our part in caring for our common home. That’s partly in the choices that we make about what we eat, how we travel, what we buy. And it’s also about speaking to our politicians and business leaders so that we take the steps we need to urgently and drastically cut emissions, to protect and restore our natural environment and to create the green and decent jobs that will be so important in the coming period.

What should be the responsibility of the Christian vis-a-vis the environment?

The pope has taught us how God has entrusted us with the care of creation. This is something that stems right from the start of Scripture, where we are instructed to “till and keep” the garden of creation. It extends right through to the commandment to love our neighbor, given that our abuse of the environment causes such great suffering for the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global family. This teaching from Pope Francis builds upon lessons from previous popes, including Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict. And it’s something that unites us with Christians of all denominations and people of other faiths – with so many faith leaders and communities worldwide in recent times urging political leaders to cut emissions and to leave polluting fossil fuels in the ground.

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