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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

People and planet first: the imperative to change course

Vatican City, 1 July 2015 (VIS) – This morning a press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the high-level Conference “People and planet first: the imperative to change course” (Rome, Augustinianum, 2-3 July) organised by the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” and CIDSE, an international network of Catholic non-governmental development organisations.

The speakers at the conference were Cardinal Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace”; Naomi Klein, writer; Ottmar Edenhofer, co-president of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) and Bernd Nilles, secretary general of Cooperation Internationale pour le Developpement et la Solidarite (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity).

Cardinal Turkson emphasised that the title of the conference, which focuses on climate change, clearly indicates the aim to be pursued: “people and planet, not one or the other, not one at the expense of the other”. He noted that in his recent Encyclical “Laudato si'”, the Pope proposes an integral ecology that respects its human and social dimensions, and shows that climate change is one of the main challenges facing humanity in our times, also highlighting that the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. “Yet the costs of climate change are being borne by those least responsible for it and least able to adapt to it – the poor. Overall, climate change is a global problem with a spectrum of serious implications: environmental, social, economic and political”. In “Laudato si'”, the Pope also laments the failure of past global summits on the environment, and launches an urgent appeal for enforceable international agreements to stop climate change.

In this respect, as Cardinal Turkson observes, the COP21 Conference held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015 will be crucial in identifying strong solutions to the problem of climate change. The Sustainable Development Goals are also relevant in this context, and coincide in various aspects with the points made by Pope Francis in his Encyclical. “For example, the 13th proposed goal will express the imperative to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Related goals include: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

“These goals, similar to important points made in 'Laudato si'', await the pledges and the will of the whole world community during the 70th United Nations General Assembly beginning in mid-September 2015. Yet the single biggest obstacle to the imperative to change course is not economic, scientific or even technological, but rather within our minds and hearts. The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions. … The political dimension needs to re-establish democratic control over the economy and finance, that is, over the basic choices made by human societies. This is the path the entire human family is on, the one which leads through New York to Paris and beyond”, concluded the prelate.

Naomi Klein affirmed that what Pope Francis writes in “Laudato si'” “is not only a teaching for the Catholic world but for 'every person living on this planet'. And I can say that as a secular Jewish feminist who was rather surprised to be invited to the Vatican, it certainly spoke to me”.

“In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality. Because if we agree that endangering life on earth is a moral crisis, then it is incumbent on us to act like it. That does not mean gambling the future on the boom and bust cycles of the market. It means policies that directly regulate how much carbon can be extracted from the earth. It means policies that will get us to 100 per cent renewable energy in two or three decades – not by the end of the century. And it means allocating common, shared resources – like the atmosphere – on the basis of justice and equity, not winners-take-all”.

Therefore, “a new kind of climate movement is fast emerging. It is based on the most courageous truth expressed in the encyclical: that our current economic system is both fuelling the climate crisis and actively preventing us from taking the necessary actions to avert it. A movement based on the knowledge that if we don’t want runaway climate change, then we need system change. And because our current system is also fuelling ever widening inequality, we have a chance, in rising to the climate challenge, to solve multiple, overlapping crises at once. In short, we can shift to a more stable climate and fairer economy at the same time”.

“This growing understanding is why you are seeing some surprising and even unlikely alliances. Like, for instance, me at the Vatican. Like trade unions, Indigenous, faith and green groups working more closely together than ever before. Inside these coalitions, we do not agree on everything. … But we understand that the stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us. When 400,000 people marched for climate justice in New York last September, the slogan was 'To change everything, we need everyone'. Everyone includes political leaders, of course. But having attended many meetings with social movements about the COP summit in Paris, I can report this: there is zero tolerance for yet another failure being dressed up as a success for the cameras. … If the deal fails to bring about immediate emission reductions while providing real and substantive support for poor countries, then it will be declared a failure. As it should be”.

“What we must always remember is that it’s not too late to veer off the dangerous road we are on, the one that is leading us towards 4 degrees of warming”, emphasised Naomi Klein. “Indeed we could still keep warming below 1.5 degrees if we made it our top collective priority. It would be difficult, to be sure. As difficult as the rationing and industrial conversions that were once made in wartime. As ambitious as the anti-poverty and public works programs launched in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War. But difficult is not the same as impossible. And giving up in the face of a task that could save countless and lives prevent so much suffering – simply because it is difficult, costly and requires sacrifice from those of us who can most afford to make do with less – is not pragmatism. It is surrender of the most cowardly kind. And there is no cost-benefit analysis in the world that is capable of justifying it”.

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