A press conference was held today in the Vatican to discuss two meetings taking place here next week on climate change, human trafficking, and sustainable development. The meetings will bring together mayors from around the world, to discuss how cities can help contribute to the solution of some of these problems facing humanity.
The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences will host the workshop “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: the Commitment of the Cities” and the symposium “Prosperity, People, and Planet: Achieving Sustainable Development in Our Cities” from July 21 to 22. This will for the first time bring a group of international mayors to the Vatican.
The Chancellor of the Academy, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, said the climate crisis and modern slavery were “interconnected emergencies,” stating that “although the poor and the excluded have the least effect on climate change… they are the most exposed to the terrible threat posed by human-induced climate disruption.”
Bishop Sánchez said in this fundamental moral context, cities and their mayors play a key role. “Currently, most of humanity is concentrated in formal and informal urban settlements and this trend is set to increase,” he said.
“We intend for the mayors to commit to promoting the empowerment of the poor and of those who live in vulnerable conditions in our cities and in our urban settlements, reducing their exposure to extreme weather events caused by radical environmental, economic and social instabilities, which create fertile ground for forced migration and human trafficking,” he said.
Here are Bishop Sánchez’s remarks:
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We are here today to talk about the meeting of July 21, in which the mayors of the world will examine two interconnected emergencies: the climate crisis and modern slavery. I think it’s the first time the mayors are invited to the Vatican.
Why the mayors? When the Santa Marta Group was founded by the Pope, Cardinal Nichols and a few bishops a couple of years ago at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to bring together police chiefs and bishops from all over the world, the police chiefs stressed the importance of having the bishops support their moral commitment towards the poorest of the poor.
However, they also pointed out that they report not to the bishops but to the governors, and in many cases to the mayors. Following their advice, we have thus tried to bring together the mayors to determine the best practices to mitigate climate change and eradicate modern slavery.
Anthropic Global Warming
As stated in Laudato si’, “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life” (§23). The Pope adds that there is a very solid scientific consensus indicating that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. As the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has shown in several studies, available as free downloads on our website www.pas.va, this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level. Moreover, it’s difficult not to link it to extreme weather events such as prolonged drought, heat waves and destructive storms, which are becoming more and more frequent.
Humanity, therefore, is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes, which produce or aggravate it. As the Pope says in Laudato si’, “The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system” (§23).
Relativism: The Other As a Mere Object
According to Laudato si’, these human-induced climate-related phenomena, coupled with the culture of relativism, encourage individuals to take advantage of other individuals as mere objects, using them for forced labour or enslaving them. Pope Francis believes this is the same logic that leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests.
Links Between the Climate Crisis and Social Exclusion
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences agrees with the Holy Father that there is a clear link between the two human-induced emergencies of the climate crisis and the social crisis. Following the Encyclical, our commitment is to make the whole of society aware of these phenomena and of the human responsibilities of these crises and to react firmly, as a new moral imperative for all of humanity in favour of the common good.
In this fundamental moral context, cities and their mayors play a key role. Currently, most of humanity is concentrated in formal and informal urban settlements and this trend is set to increase. Each of our cultural traditions also affirms the inherent dignity and the social responsibility of each individual in relation to the common good. They emphasize the importance of living together in the polis for the fulfilment of the social, cultural and religious identity of every human being and for the beauty, wonder and inherent goodness of the world, recognizing it as a precious gift that supports life and is entrusted to our stewardship. It is not a matter of preserving it as in a museum, but of developing it according to its potential, following the very laws of nature. Respecting and developing “our common home” rather than devastating it is a moral imperative.
The Poor and the Excluded Are the Most Exposed
As the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has remarked, although the poor and the excluded have the least effect on climate change and often live on the outskirts of the city, they are the most exposed to the terrible threat posed by human-induced climate disruption. However, the world now has within reach the scientific knowledge, technological tools and financial means to reverse anthropogenic climate change, while ending extreme poverty at the same time through solutions that include renewable and low carbon emission energy sources.
We therefore hope to achieve that “integral ecology” proposed by Laudato si’ “to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us” (§225), particularly in the cities in which we lead our social life.
Financing the initiative in favour of this “integral ecology”, including the decisive containment of human induced climate change, could also be based on the relentless pursuit of peace, which would allow a redistribution of public spending from military expenditure towards urgent investments for the benefit of social inclusion and the effective monitoring of carbon emissions, particularly in the cities.
The Mayors’ Commitment
We intend for the mayors to commit to promoting the empowerment of the poor and of those who live in vulnerable conditions in our cities and in our urban settlements, reducing their exposure to extreme weather events caused by radical environmental, economic and social instabilities, which create fertile ground for forced migration and human trafficking.
At the same time, we would like the mayors to commit to put an end to abuse, exploitation, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery within their communities. These tragic occurrences, which Pope Benedict and Pope Francis termed “crimes against humanity,” also include forced labour, prostitution, organ trafficking and domestic servitude.
We would also like the mayors to commit to developing resettlement and social integration programmes for the victims, at the national and local levels, in order to avoid their involuntary repatriation (cfr. The PASS’ revision of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, no. 16.2).
In short, we would like our cities and urban settlements to become more socially inclusive, safe, resilient and ecologically integrated (cfr. UN Sustainable Development Goals, no. 11).