China’s Looks to Improve Transparency on Climate Change

Public particip050409_china_protest_bcol7a.standard1ation plays a critical role in environmental discussions. Any good forward-thinking government should act in the best interest of their people. Public participation involves the input of citizens that lead to legislation decision making. Public participation should be a logical step in building trust and holding government officials accountable. Public participation is integral in article 6 of the UNFCCC that enables “public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses.
Keeping within the spirit of Article 6, developing countries are slowly enabling public participation and education programs that help build awareness of the effects of climate change. China, even though it has a history of significant media censorship, has started campaigning and encouraging the public to learn and speak up on climate change. Today at COP24, the China pavilion hosted a presentation on its efforts to engage the public. Despite the many criticisms China faces in not doing more in combating climate change, one of the positive things about China is that it acknowledges that climate change is real. China has accepted that increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
China says that it is campaigning and hosting conferences that raise public awareness and transparency. Chinese media outlets are now implementing initiatives that enable greater access to the public. However, the media has also warned that the public responses should be objective and rational. The Chinese press is also filming a documentary on the effects of climate change in China.
Outside of the media, the Chinese government developed the China Center for Climate Change Communication. The organization is a collaboration between the Research Center for Journalism and Social Development of Renmin University and Oxfam Hong Kong. The organization’s mission is to exchange publications on climate change with other experts and NGOs.
Moreover, China is involved in joint ventures with India in building education programs that teach the value of conservation to young children. The program, called the Smart Cloud Campus Network, seeks to fundamentally change consumption behavior at an early age by developing lessons and activities that encompass the principals linked with the 17 elements of the SDGs published by the UNFCCC. The program’s secondary goal is to move towards making campuses carbon neutral.
China invited Greenpeace Poland to the discussion and served as a case study in which China hopes to follow in the same manner. Fifteen years ago, Polish citizens had no concept of renewable energy, nor the idea of climate change. Ten years of public awareness has started to shifted public perception favoring clean energy solutions. Surveys conducted recently in Poland show that 69% of the public wants to quit coal by 2030. The main message that helped initiate public climate action discussions by shifting from the climate change to human tragedies that affect community can also happen to us.
At negotiation sessions at COP24, China’s comments and suggestions subtly give away its position to build in flexibility allowing a balance between economic growth and climate change. Although China is known for suppressing negative stories and opinions to save face, we must give China an opportunity of good faith to make good on its promises. After all, can you name a country who has not censored speech against its citizens? China’s commitment to climate change appears sincere. I hope they don’t disappoint us.

The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.


IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM

  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

WRI Graph

Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.

 


Just Peace through Climate Action

Display at India's COP Pavilion

Display at India’s COP Pavilion

This year, the COP demonstrated the priority of climate justice by recognizing the first official Climate Justice Day on the UNFCCC Programme. The celebration of Climate Justice Day explored the social dimensions of climate action while elevating the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that led to the Paris Agreement. In fact, COP 22 highlights the unusual global alliance between governments, corporations, universities, NGO’s and faith inspired communities, all fighting against the effects of climate change. Along side the delegate pavilions and green technology entrepreneurs, stand a wide array of associations such as Mediators Without Borders, the Planetary Security Initiative, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion, and Green Faith. Yesterday’s reflective side event sponsored by the  Quaker United Nations Office underscored the importance of such a broad alliance: multi-level problems require multi-level solutions.

Entitled, “Trust and Peacebuilding Approaches for Ambitious Climate Action,” Friday’s QUNO panel focused on climate change as a humanitarian and spiritual crisis, as well as an environmental one, emphasizing the complex nature of the climate change problem. The discussion centered around fighting climate change as a personal moral imperative, the importance of personal equilibrium as well as environmental equilibrium, empowering climate change solutions on a personal level, unity through prayer, climate justice, and above all, love. Panelists included Sonja Klinsky, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Lindsey Fielder Cook, Representative for Climate Change, Quaker United Nations Office Ambassador, Jayanti Kirpalani, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Henrik Grape, Church of Sweden and Joy Kennedy, World Council of Churches.  Emphasizing individual impact, the presentation was empowering because it reminded listeners that they could make a difference by taking small personal steps while waiting for larger national policies to take shape. Their message was one of unity, courage and hope.

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Later that evening, the closing COP 22/CMA 1 meeting managed to maintain this momentum of unity, courage and hope to successfully adopt their meeting Decision FCCC/PA/CMA/2016/1. In doing so, the COP of Action moved ahead and sent a clear message to the world. To quote U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, in his closing remarks at this final COP 22 meeting, “Momentum for the Paris Agreement cannot be stopped.” In the continued spirit of unity, and showing their personal appreciation for each other, the entire plenary of hundreds of COP 22 delegates paused during a break in the negotiations to sing happy birthday to the delegate from Mali. Hopefully, this spirit of unity carries through to next year when COP 23 is held in Bonn, Germany.

On a personal reflective note, I continue to draw inspiration from the wide range of groups here at the COP, all fighting the effects of climate change.  This COP 22 experience has been particularly meaningful due to the opportunity our Vermont Law School class had to work with a Service Learning Partner Country.  Being able to serve a purpose at COP 22, to provide direct delegation support to a Least Developed Country, became my small way of making a difference in the fight against climate change.  The remarkable people I have met here continue to inspire me with their dedication to Just Peace, through Climate Action.


Caught on the Front Lines of Climate Change

In an event hosted today by WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management), six inspiring women shared their stories of community, loss, and leadership. The panel was comprised of women from diverse and remote regions of the world, including a Native American of the Ponca Nation, a representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a Quechua-speaking native of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and several leaders of global non-profit organizations. All of these women came to COP21 with the same message: the voices of women and indigenous peoples are essential to effectively addressing climate change.

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Panelists at today’s event, Global Women & Indigenous Peoples on the Frontline of Climate Solutions: Forests & Renewable Energy

Each of the panelists shared shockingly similar stories of their lives and their communities, highlighting their plight against the effects of climate change. Most indigenous communities contribute very little to climate change, yet feel the effects far more profoundly than the rest of the world. Women also face disproportionate impacts from climate change, indicating that this group had tremendous insight to offer from both perspectives. They had faced the direct impacts of climate change and had established innovative methods of addressing the associated problems. In the case of the Ponca Nation and the Amazonian natives, both groups are actively opposing resource extraction in their sacred ancestral lands. Women in Colombia are reclaiming land for traditional agricultural practices after years of protests allowed them to begin saving seeds again. Women in the DRC are creating carbon negative local economies by planting trees. By organizing their communities and utilizing traditional and institutional knowledge, they are developing robust, local solutions to climate change.

Nevertheless, a Paris agreement may not address these groups’ needs or their suggestions. There are currently four binding sections of the agreement that reference gender equality or the rights of indigenous people, and two of those references are bracketed. This means that the rights of indigenous people and women may not be adequately addressed in two important parts of the agreement (purpose and finance). Hopefully, this panel discussion, along with the other events associated with Gender Day, will encourage the negotiators to avoid this absurd result.


What story will COP21 tell?

UNClimateChangeNewsroomHdrEverywhere you turn at COP21 there are exciting stories – stories of unprecedented financing partnerships to ramp up renewable energy technologies; stories of global knowledge exchanges on successful strategies for adapting to climate impacts; stories of cities leading breakthrough initiatives in energy efficiency; and more.

Behind the scenes, though, in rooms open only to official country delegates, there are negotiations (now at the ministerial level) on a draft text of the Paris Outcome that still has many issues, even at this late date. The results will impact every single person on the planet, and it could be a very sad story. In fact, according to Stuart Scott, host of Climate Matters, a video series covering COP21, “[i]f you’re paying attention to what’s going on here, you can’t talk about the negotiations as an honest effort.”

Scott’s guests today offered a piece of that sad story already unfolding- the one of vulnerable individuals, communities and nations suffering heartbreaking impacts of climate change right now all around the world. His focus was the Pacific Islands.

Kiribati King TideTo the backdrop of powerful images, Tinaai Teaua of Kiribati and Maina Talia of Tuvalu both spoke of the physical and emotional losses they’ve experienced and witnessed in the face of king tides, cyclones and water shortages. Teaua described how the king tides wipe out homes, how coastal erosion is destroying the tree fruit crops on which her people depend, and how people are scared. They don’t want to leave home. “Without our land, we are nothing. Our land is our identity.” T Teaua of Kiribati

Talia’s home of Tuvalu is a group of 8 islands with no land at more than 2 meters above sea level. Climate change is forcing many to relocate; nearly 5,000 have already moved to New Zealand. He echoed Teaua’s words.

Another guest, Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang of the NGO Pacific Calling Partnership articulated the climate justice reality permeating the room: “It is not just about moving people to a safer place. It is very unjust for developed countries to keep doing what is so wrong, to keep jeopardizing the lives of our people.”

“The youth look into my eyes, saying ‘Why must we move?’ This is where we were born. Our ancestors are buried here.”

The message Kiribati’s Teaua has been taking to the delegates is clear: “You are not immune, no matter where you live. If you save me and my future, you save the world.”

Now that’s the story we need.Tuvalu_-_Funafuti_-_Beach


How will we measure success in Paris?

peopleAfter observing the first week of COP21, it is clear that reaching agreement is not the measure of success in Paris. Everyone from the Executive Secretary to heads of delegation have expressed confidence that all Parties can agree on a final outcome. In fact, at the closing of the ADP plenary, ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf suggested that we have already made history in that the “final general debate” had concluded at Thursday’s ADP Contact Group meeting and all 196 Parties agreed on the draft Paris Outcome on Saturday.

Now that a Paris Outcome seems inevitable, what is the next measure of success? In describing a successful agreement throughout the first week, Parties have rattled off buzzwords such as “comprehensive,” “ambitious,” “fair,” “legally binding,” “enduring,” “long-term,” and “strong.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon addressed this question with more specificity during Monday’s Leaders Event where he listed four criteria for success. First, he stated, the agreement must be durable by providing “a long-term vision that anchors the below-2-degrees-Celsius goal, and recognizes the imperative to strengthen resilience.” Second, he continued, the agreement must be dynamic in order to “accommodate changes in the global economy, and not have to be continually renegotiated.” The third requirement for success is an agreement that embodies solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable by ensuring “sufficient and balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries.” Fourth, he concluded, the agreement must be credible by ratcheting up ambition every five years, beginning before 2020.

To me, Paris has already been successful. COP21 has raised public awareness about climate change by bringing together an unprecedented number of world leaders, country delegates, CEOs, governors, mayors, civil society members, and investors to “demonstrate that they understand both the risks associated with inaction and the opportunities from being part of the solution.” As President Obama said in his speech on Monday, we are “marshaling our best efforts to save the world.”


“What would we tell our grandchildren if we fail?”

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech during the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015.   REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech during the opening session of COP21 at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Today’s children and their future heirs have been getting a lot of airtime at COP21 as Parties and world leaders regularly invoke “our children, grandchildren, and future generations” in a call for immediate action on climate change. At the Leaders Event Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande, and the prime minister of Tuvalu were among those who invoked future generations – even mentioning their own children and grandchildren – to stress the importance of a long-term deal. This personal appeal to “think of your children” is unsurprising as climate policy fundamentally asks the present to sacrifice for the future.

A 2013 Time magazine article discusses the question of intergenerational equity and cites a study about “the retirement saving crisis” to suggest that human beings are not good at planning for the future even when their own future selves stand to benefit. Time suggests that this inability to sacrifice for the future is compounded in the climate change context because the most severe impacts from climate change are many years away or else they are happening in developing countries that are out of sight.

So, is there hope for a climate deal in Paris when human beings only think of themselves?

Some reassurance comes from the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or “Convention”) itself. The first stated principle of the Convention under Article 3 reads, “[t]he Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” While Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, observed at the CVF meeting this week that this article includes the only mention of people in the Convention, the principle makes clear that Parties should consider future generations when making decisions.

youthThis principle is the subject of tomorrow’s Young and Future Generations Day at COP21, a non-stop celebration of youth power and participation in the climate talks. This celebration “recognizes the key role that young people play in reaching innovative and ambitious solutions to climate change,” and will generate several related side events on tomorrow’s calendar.

Beyond Paris and the Convention, three weeks ago, Our Children’s Trust hit a major milestone when, for the first time, a judge ruled in favor of intergenerational climate justice. The judge ordered the State of Washington to reconsider 8 youth plaintiffs’ petition requesting that the Department of Ecology write a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for their generation and those to come. The judge’s eloquent opinion summarizes the importance of intergenerational equity stating, “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”


Religion & Climate Change: How the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change Affects COP Negotiations

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger [of] ending life as we know it on our planet.” Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Islamic Declaration Photo

On August, 18th, 2015, a group of Muslim scholars, leaders, scientists, and clergy members made a call to action in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. This call to action urged the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and all nations across the globe to actively combat climate change by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by committing to a 100% renewable energy strategy. The declaration specifically calls upon the Conference of Parties (COP) to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” at the December 2015, meeting of the Parties in Paris.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is part of a movement by many faiths and denominations who are all calling on governments to take action at COP21 in Paris. In June, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter declaring climate change a moral issue that must be addressed. Additionally, over 300 rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption. With over 84% of the world’s population religiously affiliated global support by faith groups for effective climate action has the potential to reach large audiences.

In response to the Islamic Declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said:

A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.

Global responses to the Islamic Declaration have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the declaration “with great joy, and in a spirit of solidarity.” He pledged that the Catholic Church would work with the declaration’s authors to protect their common earthly home. Additionally, NGO’s such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have commended the declaration as a positive display of climate leadership.

So far the actual effect of the Islamic Declaration is unclear. While the majority of country Parties with high Muslim populations have filed INDCs, the quality of pledges has greatly varied. For example, Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s INDC as sufficient based on the country’s target reduction goals. A sufficient rating is encouraging because it means that Morocco’s targets are ambitious and that Morocco is pledging to its “fair share” of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C.  Conversely, Climate Action Tracker rated both Turkey’s INDC and Indonesia’s INDC as inadequate.

Even though INDC’s for Muslim countries do not definitively support the Islamic Declaration, many news sources still view the declaration as a step in the right direction because it “turns up the heat” for government officials by signaling an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, or spirit of our time. In the words of Bill McKibben, “[t]he real effect of documents like these, though, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. Most of us identify with one or several groups—Islam or Christendom, our alma mater or our union. As these begin to emphasize an issue, it becomes easier to make it part of our mental furniture.”


Pope Francis adds his voice to religious leaders calling for climate change action

When Pope Francis gave a speech last month about the importance of collective action on climate change, it was heralded as an important step in moving the 196 UNFCCC parties from COP20’s “call to action” in Lima to inking COP21’s new agreement in Paris. Stressing that climate change’s disproportional impacts on the world’s poor present “a serious ethical and moral responsibility” and that “we can find solutions only if we act together and agree,” the Pope declared an urgent ethical imperative to act collectively. In doing so, he pointed out the key missing ingredients for taking effective globalpope francis action: overcoming mistrust and promoting a culture of solidarity.

With an eye toward promoting solidarity, Pope Francis has committed the Catholic Church to three concrete steps. (For a more insider’s perspective on the Pope’s strategic actions for influencing the outcome of COP21 in Paris, the NYT’s Andrew Revkin recommends carefully reading this November 2014 speech by Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and a close friend of Pope Francis.)

First, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, along with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held a workshop last May called Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.  It produced this concluding declaration signed by over 50 international and interdisciplinary experts (including US professors Edith Brown Weiss, Naomi Oreskes, and Dan Kammen). This collective statement sets out the arguments for directly tackling the dangers of our Anthropocene Age – namely, the “inequality, unfairness, and corruption” that undermines “our ethical values, personal dignity and human rights” – and lists straight forward strategies for doing so.  Among these are:

  • targeted investments in sustainable energy access, education, health, housing, sociPASS reportal infrastructure and livelihoods for the poor;
  • making energy systems more efficient and less dependent on coal, petrol and natural gas
  • focusing on human rights, the rule of law, participatory democracy, and universal access to public services; and
  • improved effectiveness of fiscal and social policies, ethical finance reform, large scale “decent work” policies, integration of the informal and popular economic sectors, and national and international collaboration to eradicate forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Next, in March the Pope will visit Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2012, and publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will then distribute it to parishioners. Finally, at next September’s annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly, Pope Francis will address world political leaders while also convening a climate change summit of religious leaders.

Since December, a lot of media attention has been paid to Pope Francis’ climate change campaign.   Much of it has focused on pushback by conservative Catholics (like U.S. politicians John Boehner and Rick Santorum, and Vatican treasurer Cardinal Pell) and U.S. Evangelical Christians.  It is true that the Pope’s climate change initiative could have a decided impact on moving people to act on their moral beliefs, even when they’ve shown reticence to act politically on climate change:  as the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, he had a 60% global approval rating of Catholics and non-Catholics in this recent ppope francis pew grapholl, with the highest concentrations in Europe (84%), U.S. (78%), and Latin America (72%).  Given that COP20’s activities in Peru (and the social pre-COP, held in nearby Venezuela) focused attention on this region’s increased climate change policymaking and actions, that Europeans have engaged in serious climate change mitigation and adaptation commitments since the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and that the U.S. has stepped up its international climate change engagement under the Obama Administration, the Pope’s popularity bodes well for COP21’s odds of success.

green lantern

Christiana Figueres’s assistant bringing the green lantern into the COP20 venue for the first time.

But a missing piece of this story is that the faith-based community is already well at work influencing the UNFCCC negotiations as they progress toward Paris.  In Lima, the World Council of Churches  participated at the COP as an NGO Observer Delegation and participated in COP20 side events and at the nearby People’s Summit.  Its work, based on the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change held last September in New York, produced a final statement of the Interfaith Summit that was officially presented to the UNFCCC on December 11th. On the day before – singled out as the U.N.’s Human Rights Day – a panel hosted by several faith-based organizations (the WCC, Religions for Peace, Quaker United Nations Office) featured Reverend Henrik Grape of the Church of Sweden. Starting it all off, the green lantern that we witnessed arriving at the venue on November 30 marked the end of fasting by religious and environmental groups in Fast for the Climate.  So the Catholic Church’s full-court press from Lima to Paris presents an additional and potentially high impact strategy that will add to an already experienced ecumenical climate change team and playbook.