Copyright © 2019 Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, All rights reserved.

Archbishop Auza Stresses Climate Concerns at Fordham Conference

‘Pope Francis and the United Nations on the Environment’

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, spoke March 27, 2019, on a panel at Fordham University with Dr. Marc Conte, Fordham Professor in the Department of Economics, and Paul Wilkins, Senior Director of Government Relations for Bloom Energy, at the Cassamarca Lecture, sponsored by the Department for International and Political Economy and Development (IPED), for which he delivered the keynote address on the theme of Pope Francis and the United Nations on the Environment.
«When Pope Francis spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, one of the main themes of his Address was about care for our common home and for our brothers and sisters in that home — and the interconnectedness between the two,» Archbishop Auza dai. «To harm the environment, he said, is to harm human beings and we see this in how the misuse and destruction of the environment are ‘accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion … of the weak and disadvantaged.’
«Human beings in some places are so marginalized, he said, that they are treated almost like refuse to be discarded in a ‘widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste.’ In response to this, he stated that solemn commitments are not enough, but there’s a need for a political will that is ‘effective, practical and constant’ that will lead to ‘concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion.'»
Following is the archbishop’s full talk.

“Pope Francis and the United Nations on the Environment”

Reverend Fathers,
Professor Schwalbenberg and Members of the Fordham Community,
Dr. Fakharzadeh and Members of Centesimus Annus pro-Pontifice Foundation,
Distinguished Respondents and Professors,
Dear Friends,
It is a joy for me to be back for my fourth lecture as the holder of the Cassamarca Foundation Chair in Migration and Globalization at Fordham University. In my inaugural lecture in February 2017, I spoke on the Holy See and the fight against human trafficking. In March 2018, I shared my reflection on Catholic Social Thought at a time of global turmoil. In September 2018, my talk was on Pope Francis’ Perspective on Food Insecurity and his call for New Approaches. Today, I am asked to give a wide-angle perspective on Pope Francis and the United Nations on the Environment.
In thanking Fordham’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy and Development under the dedicated leadership of Professor Henry Schwalbenberg, I also wish to express deep appreciation for the presence and collaboration of the Centesimus Annus pro-Pontifice Foundation USA for my Cassamarca lectures.
The theme before us today is very vast, with so many documents and sources from which to draw. But The subject of the environment is current and huge for both the Church and the world and one of the principal concerns of both the Vatican and Turtle Bay. I shall try to intertwine the thoughts of Pope Francis and those of the United Nations on this issue.
When Pope Francis spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, one of the main themes of his Address was about care for our common home and for our brothers and sisters in that home — and the interconnectedness between the two. To harm the environment, he said, is to harm human beings and we see this in how the misuse and destruction of the environment are “accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion … of the weak and disadvantaged.” Human beings in some places are so marginalized, he said, that they are treated almost like refuse to be discarded in a “widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste.’” In response to this, he stated that solemn commitments are not enough, but there’s a need for a political will that is “effective, practical and constant” that will lead to “concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion.”
We all know how dear is the question of the environment to the heart and pastoral priorities of Pope Francis. Given the vastness of the bibliography on Pope Francis and the environment, for the purposes of this lecture and given the time constraints, I would just focus on what the Holy Father teaches us in his celebrated Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home.
Laudato Si’ gives us the term “integral ecology,” the overarching principle that Pope Francis uses in his approach to environmental concerns. The approach of “integral ecology” starts with how the Holy Father sees our planet. He approaches the earth not as a mere object of concern or a good to be used; he sees it primarily as a “home,” our “common home.” “Home” signifies something familial. We belong. It’s in some sense ours. Just like in a home, we are brothers and sisters in this common home. “Common” means that it’s something we share with all of the other family members, who similarly belong and with us are fellow stewards. He says it’s something we must work together to repair and to build (LS 13, 60, 61).
Moreover, the adjective “common” leads us to two other expressions fundamental in Catholic Social Teaching: the common good and the common destination of the goods of this earth. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis defines the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life that allow social groups and their individual members’ relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment” (LS 156). Human ecology “is inseparable from the notion of the common good,” which means “logically and inevitably a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” as well as to “intergenerational solidarity” since the world we have also belongs to those who will follow us (LS 156, 158-9). Our climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.
Flowing from the notion of the “common good” is the “common destination of goods.” The earth, Pope Francis writes, “is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone” (LS 93). There is a certainly a right to private property, but there’s also a “social mortgage” on all private property, subordinating it to the common good. The natural environment is therefore both the “patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.” To the extent that we make anything our own, we do so as stewards, with the responsibility to administer it for the good of all (LS 93, 95).
When I consider the discussions on the environment at the UN from Pope Francis’ perspective of our common home, I can safely affirm that there is a growing sense of awareness that we are all in it together, that the decisions made in one room of our common home impact many if not all of the other rooms and those in them. So there has been a huge focus on coming together to address them. We see it in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We see it in the Paris Agreement. We see it in the Katowice Climate Package. We see it in how it has become so much en vogue at the UN to underline the interconnectedness of peace and security, respect for human rights and development, as pillars of the United Nations’ mission, as the UN Charter spells out.
But we also see that many challenges remain to the type of solidarity needed in our common home. We have witnessed it with regard to various States’ seeking to withdraw from the Paris Agreement or to weaken its commitments. Moreover, there remain deep divisions between the developed and developing world, for example, on financing measures to curb climate change, technology transfer, and energy issues. There are also differences in interpretation on how the principle of “common but differentiated respective responsibilities and capacities” should be applied in actual burden-sharing. The end result is that effective solidarity still needs to pass from words to actions. In fact, the call to “integral ecology” cannot be answered adequately if there are greed and indifference instead of solidarity among the brothers and sisters living in our common home.
When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed Pope Francis to the General Assembly Hall, he underlined the Pope’s call for a holistic approach to environmental concerns. “You have spoken often of an ‘integral ecology,’ one that encompasses the environment, economic growth, social justice, and human well-being.” He called the Pope’s “moral” approach “critical,” calling the Holy Father a “resounding voice of conscience” not only on environmental issues but “across the global agenda.”
Integral ecology is what is behind Pope Francis’ emphasis on the connection between the way we care for our planet and the way we care for each other, which he mentioned in his UN address. In Laudato Si’, he insisted on keeping the environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects of the ecological crisis united. “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social,” he wrote, “but rather with one complex crisis that is both social and environmental.” Therefore, “strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (LS 139). He emphasized that there can be “no ecology without an adequate anthropology. … Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb” (LS 118-9).
That’s why, Pope Francis says, that, on the one hand, we must be concerned with injuries to our planet and the irresponsible treatment of other living beings; on the other, however, we must resist the trends and ideologies that focus almost exclusively on protecting the planet or other species while allowing offenses against human dignity. He gives several examples of this ecologically-garbed individualism: when we combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining indifferent to human trafficking (LS 91); when we worry about cruelty to animals while justifying the grisly practice of abortion of our younger, more vulnerable brothers and sisters (LS 117, 120); when we fight against genetically modified organisms but allow experimentation on the human genome and human embryos (LS 136); when we seek to keep natural environment intact as a gift, and care for the male and female members of endangered species, but then think we have absolute power over our created bodies, trying to cancel out human sexual difference through gender ideology (LS 155). Integral ecology calls us to be consistent, to care for both our common home and our roommates.
Integral ecology, because it is an encompassing, overarching and unifying principle, is very rich. To appreciate it more deeply, we need to consider its ethical and spiritual, scientific, technological, economic and political dimensions.
Let’s focus first on the ethical and spiritual dimension. The Holy Father focuses on them in his call for “ecological conversion” (LS 216), to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet and each other (LS 8), to recognize that while many things have to change, above all it’s we who need to change (202). “The ecological crisis,” he writes, is a “summons to profound interior conversion.”
As some preachers are accustomed to say during the Lenten season that Christians are now living, conversion is a word that contains within it three actions.
First, it involves a-version, literally “turning away” from certain behaviors. Pope Francis mentions several: rampant individualism, the self-centered culture of instant gratification, superficiality and obsessive desire for novelty, compulsive consumerism, self-interested pragmatism, greed, numbed consciences toward the poor (LS 49, 162, 203, 226).
The second action is ad-version, literally “turning toward” something else. He mentions gratitude for the gift of creation, respect for the dignity of others, appreciation for the order in creation, the humility to be a good steward, simplicity, and sobriety, and a gratuitousness that flows into civic and political love and involvement (LS 220, 229).
The third action is con-version, literally “turning with” someone else. This points not only to a spirit of collaboration and solidarity with others in protecting our common home; at its most theological, it means turning in harmony with the Creator.
Pope Francis says that Christians, in particular, are called to bring to the world the salt, light, and leaven of a truly grounded ecological spirituality to counteract the practical atheism that leads to a failure to reverence adequately our common home or our fellow human beings. “A spirituality that forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable,” he writes. “That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth,” he says, on the other hand, “is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality” (LS 75).
This ecological spirituality is a witness that helps the world convert to the recognition that the irresponsible behavior that has led to harms against the natural environment and to human ecology flow from the same evil source: the notion that there is no truth to guide our life and hence that human freedom can be interpreted as the license to do whatever it pleases and can get away with.
When we turn to the discussions at the UN, it’s clear that there is consensus that the world needs to overcome selfishness, greed, and consumerism, which have all contributed to the present situation. Many are choosing to live different and simpler lifestyles and doing what they can to conserve energy, water, and other natural resources, to recycle, to adopt renewable energies, and so many other good things. The focus on indigenous peoples and the need to preserve their cultures and traditions have helped the international community to see exemplified many of the practices of an integral ecology that treasures and protects the planet and each other.
But the superficiality that Pope Francis describes is still very much seen. We see it in some of the solutions proffered to the present environmental crisis. Pope Francis points it out with regard to those who try to use the ecological situation to push for a reduction in the birthrate, essentially to address the problem of poverty by eliminating the poor. There are some countries that explicitly insist that abortion must be considered as a means of population control. In some parts of the Western world, there is a movement of ladies who swear to never have children as their way of helping to curb climate change. “At times,” Pope Francis notes, “developing countries face forms of international pressure that make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’” He calls this elsewhere “ideological colonization,” and candidly says: “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some” is “one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way that can never be universalized since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption” (LS 50). According to recent data, the richest twenty percent of the world’s population consumes 82.7 percent of the world’s resources, while the poorest twenty percent consumes only 1.4 percent of the world resources.
Clearly, integral ecology also has a scientific dimension. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has entered into the scientific debate with regard to various issues like climate change, pollution, waste, water, biodiversity, and the human habitat. Pope Francis speaks, using scientific data, about the widespread pollution — from household smoke to industrial fumes, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and agrotoxins — that produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of deaths. He says that our common home is “beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (LS 21). In response, he urges a new way of living, including a circular model of production and renewable resources (LS 22), sentiments very much shared by many in the global community.
Speaking about climate, he says there is a “very solid scientific consensus” about a “disturbing warming of the climatic system … accompanied by a constant rise in sea level… [and] an increase in extreme weather events” (LS 23). Among the causes, he focuses mainly on greenhouse gases flowing from human activity and the intensive use of fossil fuels. He calls it “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (LS 25) and says that “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced” (LS 26). He was a big promoter, therefore, of the Paris Agreement and got directly involved with public words and private phone calls to such a degree that many say the Agreement would not have been reached without him.  Pope Francis likewise speaks about water (LS 28), about water-related illnesses and crises (LS 28-29), about the loss of biodiversity, in forests and wetlands and coral reefs, among plant and animal species, etc. (LS 32-42).
I would say that the Pope and the UN share accepted scientific data, and so there is no need to elaborate further on this point.
Related to its scientific dimension is the technological element in integral ecology.  Pope Francis says that a “technocratic paradigm” is at the root of the ecological crisis because it places technical prowess at the heart of human activity and risks displacing human beings and human action (LS 101). While on the one hand, technology has brought much advance and good, without being tied to a proper ethics, things like nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA and more can be manipulated to our and the world’s detriment (LS 104). Technological improvement, without corresponding ethical development, can end up haunting and harming, rather than helping, us or our planet.
When we look at the UN situation, Pope Francis’ concerns about the technocratic paradigm is validated not only in terms of environmental concerns but also with the entire sustainable development agenda and many other issues. The UN is now dominated by data-driven considerations. On the one hand, good data are an asset for decision-makers, so that they know the facts. Some argue that data can help us transcend ideological disagreement by better identifying human desires and needs. In a relativist age, someday data are the only truth that can unite. But the data we have are only as good as the questions being asked and often what is being surveyed is being asked with particular ideological conclusions in mind. Moreover, as Pope Francis has pointed out, data has a built-in practical atheism that can get us to shift our notion of what’s real to what can be measured and can lead an ethical indifferentism that can reduce what is good to what is liked.
In turning to the economic dimension of integral ecology, Pope Francis insists that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits,” because “the environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” (LS 190). But that doesn’t mean that there is no economic dimension. We see this quite clearly in the need for financing for development, including for all of the SDGs that concern the environment. It’s a pressing issue because adequate financing is absent from governments or from industry. While market-based solutions are not enough, they are needed, but what is most needed is cooperation at all levels: private, public, and civil; local, national, and international; economic, scientific, cultural and religious. This is why the 17th sustainable development goal is about partnerships, to be able to incorporate businesses as part of the solution, whereas historically some have been part of the problem.
Finally, there is the political dimension of integral ecology. Pope Francis was quite strong in his words to the General Assembly about how the world needed more than words or “solemn commitments,” but a political will that is “effective, practical and constant” leading to “concrete steps and immediate measures” to care for our planet as well as for our brothers and sisters, especially those most marginalized. The world suffers, he said, from “power badly exercised,” thus a summons to the political leaders to authority as service and not power.
Pope Francis writes in the encyclical that “we lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations” (LS 53). Political leaders, he says, must stop making excuses. Often, he adds, “politics itself is responsible for the disrepute in which it is held, on account of corruption and the failure to enact sound public policies.” He says a “healthy” and “far-sighted” politics is needed to take up the challenge of forging a “new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis” (LS 197). Without this, we’re setting the stage for “new wars,” when certain resources are depleted (LS 57).
At a concrete level, Pope Francis says that we must diagnose and overcome past failures (LS 14), take “decisive action here and now” (LS 161), implement international agreements already ratified (LS 167) and begin to make progress in lowering pollutant gas emissions, adopting renewable energy, better governing oceans, focusing more on long-term local and national policies, improving transport systems, and overcoming corruption.
He also says, “It is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions” (LS 175). The question of leadership is, and always has been, central, at the United Nations, in all institutions and countries. While there are far-sighted, intelligent and principled leaders, there are many others who use political mechanisms for personal, tribal or national interests, often to the clear detriment of the common good. What we are seeing now with regard to environmental concerns is that while there is great leadership in creating a vision and a framework, there is a need for greater leadership in implementation and financing. Pope Francis is obviously trying, within his own possibilities, to provide and catalyze the leadership needed. The future condition of our common home hinges on whether many heed that call.
Environmental concerns have clearly emerged as a huge priority for the United Nations. It is one of the most dominant themes in recent decades and in particular during the last few years. Although the UN approach may not have the same explicit and strong anthropological underpinnings as that of Pope Francis’, it certainly acknowledges how interconnected are care for the environment and human flourishing. The easiest way to see this is in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pope Francis, as you may recall, spoke immediately before the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda, which he said was a “plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity,” and called an “important sign of hope” for the world.
The United Nations recognizes what Pope Francis has been stressing: that exclusion and environmental concerns are intertwined, that we are not faced with two crises, one environmental the other social, but one crisis both environmental and social. We cannot prosper the sustainable development of men, women, and peoples without caring for our planet and all its resources. For this reason, six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals focus on the environment: SDG 6 focuses on water and sanitation; SDG 7 on affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy; SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production; SDG 13 on climate change;  SDG 14 on conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources; and SDG 15 on terrestrial ecosystems, forests, desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss.
The Sustainable Development Agenda is not the only time the UN puts environmental concerns upfront. UN conventions and documents on the theme are huge as well. I should mention here, even if only en passant, the most important ones.
The first one I would mention is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As its name indicates, it is sort of the ‘mother Convention” on climate change-related documents. It was adopted during the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and entered into force in 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership. There are 197 Parties to the Convention, although the Holy See is not.
By adopting the Convention, the international community recognized that there was a problem in our climate system, and preventing further damage is its common scope. The ultimate objective of the UFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations «at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.»
The Convention puts the onus on developed countries to lead the way, because, as the developed world are the source of most past and current greenhouse gas emissions, industrialized countries are expected to do the most to cut emissions on home ground and assist developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts.  In fact, all the UN climate change-related initiatives are driven by two fundamental principles very dear above all to the developing world: namely, the principle of equity and the principle of common but differentiated respective responsibilities and capacities.
The second document I would mention is the Kyoto Protocol. Adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and in vigor since 2005, it recognizes that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity; therefore, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of «common but differentiated responsibilities.» The Protocol, frankly, seems to be at its twilight. The 2012 Doha Amendment on the second round of commitments of States Parties, is still not ratified and, if it is not ratified by 2020, it would most probably put a death nail to the Protocol. Many leading countries, like Japan, have not made new commitments; Canada exited from it in 2012, the US never ratified it. Perhaps nobody will mourn the Kyoto Protocol, because we have a more universally accepted Paris Agreement waiting to be implemented!
The Paris Agreement, the best known among environment-related documents, was adopted in December 2015 in Paris, during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the UNFCCC. It is a very brief Agreement, with only 29 Articles and a short Preamble. For lack of time, I will point out three core elements of the Agreement that inform the whole text, which, I believe, we all should be aware of:
First, what is the specific objective of the Agreement? Article 2, paragraph 1 (a) says: “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” This is the core of the Agreement, and understandably, this was one of the most debated points during the two-week final negotiations during the COP21 in Paris in December 2015. The Philippines, as chair of the advocacy alliance called Climate Vulnerable Forum, campaigned very hard for the temperature cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and not 2.0. The Holy See Delegation held several meetings with the Philippine negotiating team. In the end, the Philippines and its allies had to compromise by accepting the cap of 2 degrees, with a “consolation clause” of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Second, how can we obtain this objective? The Agreement describes the means to achieve this: first, by adaptation and mitigation measures to curb climate change and prevent its impact; and second, to have regular and sufficient flow of funding. Mitigation measures are those actions taken to reduce and curb greenhouse gas emissions, while adaptation measures are based on reducing vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Mitigation, therefore, attends to the causes of climate change, while adaptation addresses its impacts. One very common mitigation measure is the use of renewable energy, like the use of solar panels. A very common adaption measure is disaster risk reduction. As to funding, many Articles of the Agreement, in particular, Article 9, explicitly provide that developed country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries parties with respect to mitigation and adaptation, to capacity-building and technology transfer and development.
Third, what are the obligations of States to curb greenhouse gas emissions? To achieve the objective of the Agreement, all States Parties must come up with “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) as their contribution to the overall response to climate change. NDCs are governed by the two fundamental principles I mentioned earlier, namely, the principle of equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Those who have polluted the earth more should do more; those who are already developed and whose development has contributed greatly to global warming must contribute more to the fight against climate change.
Consider this: According to the 2014 data, China contributes more than a fourth, 25.90 percent, of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, while the small island developing states, which are the most threatened by sea level rise, contribute zero percent. If the world’s four top polluters – China, the USA, the European Union and India — were to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the Agreement would automatically collapse, because it requires that at least 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions be covered by it, while the total greenhouse gas emissions of the four biggest polluters account for more than 56 percent of the total.
Another UN document I should mention is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, released in October 2018, on “the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” That’s the complete title, so long that I had to take a breath somewhere before I could finish saying it! The IPCC is the United Nations body that assesses the science related to climate change. Its aim is to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.
For me, and I believe for all, the key finding of the IPCC Special Report is that we are now at a range of between 0.8 degrees and 1.2 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels, and global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. It sounds scary, and it becomes scarier when we learn of its implications. For one, this means increases in temperatures, wild swings between temperature and precipitation extremes, sea level rises, and impacts on biodiversity, health, livelihoods, food security, etc.  Countries with huge coral areas are alarmed, as this increase means seawater temperature rises can cause the death of the corals.
What must we do? Based on the actual nationally determined contributions to curb greenhouse gas emissions submitted under the Paris Agreement, the Report says that the temperature rise will overshoot 1.5 degrees Celsius possibly by 2030. If we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, we will need to lower our carbon dioxide emissions by about 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Even limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will require nothing less than transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Limiting the risks from warming of 1.5 degrees implies system transitions that can be enabled by an increase of adaptation and mitigation investments, policy instruments, the acceleration of technological innovation and behavior changes (D.5 of the IPCC Special Report).
The fifth UN document (or, more precisely, an international document reached under the auspices of the UN) that I would like to mention is the Katowice Climate Package. It was decided at COP21 that Parties to the Agreement must come up with the implementation guidelines in 2018 at COP24, which was held in Katowice, Poland, from 2 to 16 December 2018.  The outcome is what is now commonly referred to as “The Katowice Climate Package,” or better known as the Rulebook to the Paris Agreement. The Package sets out the essential procedures and mechanisms that will make the Paris Agreement operational. The adoption of implementation guidelines promises to build greater trust and to strengthen international cooperation on transitioning to a low-emissions, climate-resilient world, one of the greatest challenges of our times. The Katowice Climate Package contains operational guidance on such fundamental elements as the nationally determined contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation and adaptation measures, transparency in reporting and assessing progress and compliance, on technology development and transfer, and financial targets to implement the Agreement. Preparing for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement through the observance of the Katowice Climate Package now needs to be faced, and that would be the priority in COP25, which will be held in Santiago, Chile, this December.
And as if all of these were not enough to confuse and fatigue us, France, perhaps getting some inspiration from the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees adopted late last year, pushed hard for a new Global Compact on the Environment. The United States, Russia, and some other countries have been trying to dampen l’enthousiasme français. After many debates, in May 2018, a compromise was reached: instead of a Global Compact for the Environment, it was decided to create an ad hoc open-ended Working Group to determine whether we need a new Global Compact or not.
The ad hoc Working Group just finished its second substantive session, held in Nairobi. One of the key persons in the process just told me that after that session, he does not see any significant convergence of positions. “It’s still 360 degrees,” from those who want a legally binding global compact to those who absolutely don’t want anything new, to all the hues in between. The Agenda of the third substantive session, which will be held in May in Nairobi, says that “draft recommendations” and the “draft report of the Working Group” will be considered.  So we should know very soon what these recommendations are and, above all, whether the Working Group will recommend a Global Compact.
I must conclude! We have covered in our brief time together a huge topic on which much has been said and on which, we hope, much will continue to be done.
I would like to finish with two reflections: one from the UN which, I think, reflects the impact of Laudato Si’ on the thinking of the international community and peoples, regardless of religious background;  and one from Pope Francis.
The then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, on the day Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, issued a press release “very much welcom[ing]” the encyclical and its call for “all humankind to come together to address climate change, one of the principal challenges facing the human community.” He emphasized Pope Francis’ point that “climate change is a moral issue that requires collective urgent action. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics. People everywhere share a responsibility to care for and protect our common home, our one and only planet Earth.” He added, echoing the Pope, that “we must do far more to help the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, who are suffering most from climate impacts yet had least to do with causing the problem, … show solidarity with generations that will follow ours, and bequeath to them a sustainable world.” He thanked Pope Francis deeply “for taking such a strong stand on the need for urgent global action.”
The influence of Laudato Si’ on the international community was seen during the final, crucial phase of the intergovernmental negotiations leading to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the start of the final phase the negotiations in New York in July 2015, with many questions still open, the Co-facilitator invited all Delegations to read Laudato Si’, because, “even if we are not all Catholics here… [and] I myself am not a Catholic,” Laudato Si’ tells us how much all the things we have been discussing are all interconnected.
A third “testimonial” to the deep and widespread influence of Laudato Si’ in the international community was COP21. Not only had practically every delegate heard of Laudato Si’; Pope Francis was cited by more than thirty Heads of State or Government in their Interventions at the Plenary Session. I can also “reveal” that there was a “Plan B” at COP21: In the event that one or more of the States who vigorously contested some parts of the draft of the Paris Agreement during the negotiations, Pope Francis would be asked to call the Presidents of those countries to convince them to adopt the Agreement, in spite of their reservations. In fact, the Agreement had to be adopted by consensus, in a way that if one State Party to the UNFCCC disagreed, the Paris Agreement would not have been adopted. Thank God there was no need for the Holy Father to pick up the phone… but the Holy See Delegation did work hard with those Delegations who showed signs of refusing the Agreement.
Finally, a last word of wisdom from the Holy Father. “What kind of world,” Pope Francis asks, “do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? This question,” he says, “not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind, we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results. But if these issues are courageously faced, we are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” (LS 160).
After asking those questions, Pope Francis declares, “It is no longer enough simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.”
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Copyright © 2019 Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation