Pope calls on rich world to take the lead in fight against climate change

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ROME – According to Pope Francis, there’s no time to wait when it comes to addressing climate change, because there are too many people who are suffering from the crisis. To address it, he argued, “urgent and courageous action is needed.”

The wounds inflicted upon humanity by the dual crises of climate change and the global pandemic, Francis argued, are comparable to a post-global conflict situation. As such, it’s necessary for the international community as a whole, much as in “the aftermath of the Second World War,” must prioritize the “implementation of collegial, solidary and farsighted actions.”

Though physically absent from the meeting, the pope sent his message to Glasgow’s United Nation sponsored summit on climate, known as the COP26.

RELATED: Pope Francis and faith leaders call for net-zero carbon emissions ahead of UN summit

The overarching goal of the summit is to put the world on a path to aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow Earth’s warming. Negotiations will take place over two weeks – Oct.31-Nov.12 – but the two-day leaders’ summit began Monday. Close to 120 heads of state and government attended these sessions that were closed with the pope’s message, read by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The prelate read an abbreviated version of the message, but the full written message was delivered to Alok Sharma, president of summit and a member of the British parliament. For this reason, the full message was considered for this report.

“We find ourselves facing an epochal change, a cultural challenge that calls for commitment by all, particularly those who possess greater means,” Francis wrote, urging the latter to “take a leading role.”

The post-COVID-19 pandemic world will necessarily be different from what it was like before the health crisis that “has devastated our human family,” and the only way to rebuild the world is “together,” starting from acknowledging past mistakes.

“Something similar could be said of our efforts to tackle the global problem of climate change,” Francis argued. “There is no alternative. We can achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement only if we act in a coordinated and responsible way. Those goals are ambitious, and they can no longer be deferred. Today it is up to you to take the necessary decisions.”

RELATED: Catholic activists say COP26 is about ‘caring for your neighbor’

According to the United Nations Climate Change webpage, the central aim of the 2015 Paris Agreement, reached during the COP21, is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and at making finance flows consistent with a low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient pathway. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate mobilization and provision of financial resources, a new technology framework and enhanced capacity-building is to be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives.

Among those who are called to work together are religious leaders, and in his message the pontiff pointed out that the majority of society, no matter what religious belief, sees protecting the environment as a moral and spiritual priority.

Referring to a meeting held at the Vatican in early October with some 40 leaders of different faith traditions, Francis said that “we listened to the voices of representatives of many faiths and spiritual traditions, many cultures and scientific fields.”

They were “very different voices, with very different sensitivities,” he wrote. But there was “a remarkable convergence on the urgent need for a change of direction, a decisive resolve to pass from the ‘throwaway culture’ prevalent in our societies to a ‘culture of care’ for our common home and its inhabitants, now and in the future.”

“Humanity possesses the wherewithal to effect this change,” Francis argued.

“Sadly, we must acknowledge how far we remain from achieving the goals set for tackling climate change,” he said. “We need to be honest: This cannot continue!”

“Now is the time to act, urgently, courageously and responsibly,” he told world leaders. “The young, who in recent years have strongly urged us to act, will only inherit the planet we choose to leave to them, based on the concrete choices we make today.”

The Vatican’s position on climate change has long been that since a small number of the worlds “developed” countries and their hyper-consumerism are disproportionately responsible for greenhouse emission, these countries should step up when it comes to finding the solutions.

The countries possessed of greater means, Francis argued in his message, “need to take a leading role in the areas of climate finance, decarbonization in the economic system and in people’s lives, the promotion of a circular economy, providing support to more vulnerable countries working to adapt to the impact of climate change and to respond to the loss and damage it has caused.”

The pope also called for special care to be shown for those who are most vulnerable, “in whose regard there is a growing ‘ecological debt’ related to commercial imbalances with environmental repercussions and to the disproportionate use of the natural resources of one’s own and of other countries.”

This ecological debt, he said, raises in some ways the issue of foreign debt, which can hinder the development of peoples.

“The post-pandemic world can and must restart from a consideration of all these aspects, along with the setting in place of carefully negotiated procedures for forgiving foreign debt, linked to a more sustainable and just economic restructuring aimed at meeting the climate emergency,” he said, urging developed countries to help pay the ecological debt by significantly limiting their consumption of nonrenewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programs of sustainable development.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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