YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A report earlier this month by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land.”

The Aug. 9 report comes ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), taking place in Glasgow Nov. 1-12, where Pope Francis is expected to attend.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official development agency of the U.S. bishops,  is calling for “bold climate action” that it says comes with “great economic gain.”

“The IPCC report validates what we’ve witnessed—that climate change has led to dramatic shifts in the weather with sometimes devastating consequences on people,” said Nikki Gamer, Media Relations Manager at Catholic Relief Services.

Africa and other developing parts of the world look at the efforts against climate change with mixed feelings, since the developing world suffers the worst effects of global warming, but also have the lightest carbon footprint.

Many African leaders fear any agreement on climate change will make it more difficult for them to grow their economy.

Gamer says that ather than engage in a blame game, “it’s time for unity.”

“We must all work together if we’re going to save the planet—and each other—from catastrophe,” she told Crux.

“With bold climate action comes great economic gain. For example, African countries can benefit from more concerted efforts and investments in land restoration and natural resource management,” she added.

Following are excerpts of her email exchange with Crux.

Crux: The latest IPCC report on climate change has been described as “grim.” How grim is it?

Gamer: To be sure, the report paints a grim picture of worsening environmental conditions. As we’ve seen this summer, wildfires are becoming more frequent, heatwaves are becoming stronger, and droughts are lasting longer. As a result, a growing number of people don’t have enough to eat. According to UN agencies, hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots in the next few months.

The IPCC report validates what we’ve witnessed — that climate change has led to dramatic shifts in the weather with sometimes devastating consequences on people. We also now know that those shifts will increasingly get worse unless urgent & collective action is taken to diminish our impacts on the environment.

What does it mean for a continent like Africa, that contributes very little to climate change?

Ironically, among those suffering the most from climate change are those contributing to it the least. For example, Madagascar is suffering its worst drought in 40 years, yet is responsible for a fraction of global carbon emissions when compared to superpowers like the United States. However, we believe that instead of focusing on who’s to blame, it’s time for unity. We must all work together if we’re going to save the planet — and each other — from catastrophe.

The report pointedly notes that there is a paucity of data when it comes to climate change monitoring in Africa. How do you think this lack of research can hurt the continent’s ability to adapt?

It is true that a lack of research and monitoring will be challenging. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report published last year, “Despite covering a fifth of the world’s total land area, Africa has the least developed land-based observation network of all continents.” This story about a weather station in Mali that had once been operational helps illustrate the immediate challenges, but there are further reaching ones as well. In the same report published in 2020, WMO notes that “achieving climate mitigation and adaptation goals will require dramatic increases in the capacity of African climate services.”

Clearly, the global community should increase its investments in this area.  Not only will the status quo lead to unnecessary suffering, but it will also lead to higher costs in emergency response while potentially increasing migration and conflict.

Should the continent bother about commitments at reducing its carbon footprint, given the fact they currently contribute so little to global climate emissions?

Recognizing the need for urgent action, the LDC Group, which is made up of more than 40 of the world’s least developed countries, including more than 30 countries in Africa, is pushing other countries around the world to increase their climate solution ambitions. These countries must also pursue development and progress in ways that sustain our common home. They are leading by example by making their own commitments.

In his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes, “Every one of us can play a valuable role if we all join this journey today. Not tomorrow, today. Because the future is constructed today, and it is not constructed alone, but in community and in harmony.”

There are some African leaders who suggest that if the continent is to develop economically, it must do what the West did to grow: Develop agriculture and industrialize. Are those leaders wrong?

We think of it this way: With bold climate action comes great economic gain. For example, African countries can benefit from more concerted efforts and investments in land restoration and natural resource management. At CRS, we’re scaling agricultural programs that support soil and landscape restoration and improved natural resource management. In Ethiopia, we’ve seen how these practices have helped farmers increase their maize yields by as much as 400 percent!

What’s clear is that agricultural production can grow while at the same time we sustain and protect the soil. Development must be pursued in ways that provide economic advancement that is also environmentally sustainable.

CRS also works in the area of climate change. What exactly have you been doing across Africa to address the challenge of climate change?

We do everything from disaster preparedness to land restoration, a solution that helps farmers adapt to climate change by better managing water and soil. Restoring degraded land also delivers benefits in terms of trapping carbon in soil and trees. You can read more about what CRS is doing about climate change by clicking here.

Beyond our programming, we have an active voice in Washington to help advocate for legislation that advances climate change adaptation efforts in developing countries, including advocating for the Green Climate Fund.

What is the nexus between climate change and faith? Pope Francis has been a tireless advocate for the environment.

We’re grateful to the Holy Father for his tireless advocacy on the environment. In fact, he’s become one of the most influential environmental activists of our time. In his second encyclical Laudato Si’, he reminds us as Catholics that it is our responsibility to care for the Earth. “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God,” he wrote.

He also has said, “The commitment of believers to a healthy environment for everyone stems directly from their belief in God the Creator, from their recognition of the effects of original and personal sin, and from the certainty of having been redeemed by Christ. Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God.” (cf. Ps 148:96)

We couldn’t agree more.