Welcoming the Pope’s Clear Message on Climate Change

Jasmine Huggins | June 23, 2015

The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for 'the Lord is maker of them all' (Prov. 22:2) - Pope Francis in Laudato Si

Last week, Church World Service joyfully welcomed Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si (Be Praised). In it, he calls for a new relationship between humankind and the earth; reduced consumption; a renewed focus on people living in poverty and for justice in their access to and quality of natural resources; for greater investments in renewable energy and for urgent action on reduction of greenhouse gases. He applauds environmentalist and development groups around the world while expressing frustration at the failure of political leadership to put the common good over narrow interests.

This was the first papal encyclical of its kind and came almost one year after the climate change march in New York City, just weeks ahead an upcoming address to the UN General Assembly and to the U.S. Congress and a few months before the UN and world leaders prepare to meet in Paris to hammer out a binding international agreement on how to tackle climate change.

The next few months will be critical for global climate change negotiations. CWS applauds Pope Francis for underlining their urgency.

The encyclical is fruit of deeply held personal and religious convictions. As religious leader of approximately 1.25 billion Catholics, Pope Francis is in a very good position to speak out about how climate change is affecting his community. In recent months, he has sent prayers and messages of support and solidarity to flood victims in countries as far apart as Peru, Chile, Malawi, Serbia and Bosnia. In the Philippines, he offered prayers of condolence and comfort to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

Recently, on World Food Day, Pope Francis wrote to Prof. José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO:

Defending rural communities from the serious threats posed by human action or natural disasters must not merely be a strategy but rather a form of permanent action aimed at promoting their participation in decision-making, at making appropriate technologies available, and extending their use, always with respect for the natural environment. Acting in this way can alter the methods of international cooperation and aid for the hungry and malnourished.    

We could not agree more.

Here at CWS, we do not underestimate the importance of this search for a moral, ethical framework to address climate change and its attendant consequences, nor do we underplay the need for urgent action. As a faith-based organization working in the U.S. and abroad, we have invested increasing sums in rapid disaster response and emergency relief as well as risk reduction and preparedness programs.

Our partners tell stories of dried rivers, changing rainfall patterns, alternating droughts and floods, reduced agricultural outputs. Family nutrition suffers as a result. Research by the FAO corroborates this. Increased water shortages, for example, will severely affect how and where food is produced, with national consequences for food security. Quality of food as well as quantity will be affected, as higher carbon emissions lower the zinc, iron and protein content of major food crops such as wheat and rice. The FAO concludes that, “Climate change is likely to exacerbate growing global inequality as the brunt of the negative climate effects is expected to fall on those countries that are least developed and most vulnerable.”

That climate change was not caused by the world’s poorest — who now have the least resources to manage or prepare for it — has not escaped notice. CWS has long understood that hunger and poverty are inextricably linked and, like climate change, are human-caused. We advocate for inclusive strategies in which the world’s poorest can define solutions for themselves. The moral and ethical call of the encyclical resonates so deeply with us all.

Pope Francis’s encyclical is a resounding message for the global community and people of faith and conscience. We look forward to finding ways to further promote its rallying call for action.

Jasmine Huggins is a Senior Advocacy Officer with CWS.