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October 15, 2015
Pope Francis Talks Climate Change in Speech at UN
    by Robert Kropp

A global perception of his moral authority may contribute momentum to a meaningful deal at December's climate talks in Paris.

While there appears to be a new sense of urgency in advance of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) scheduled to open on November 30th in Paris, the fact remains that this year's negotiations follow 20 years of largely failed efforts. “COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C,” the organizers state. It remains to be seen if world leaders will finally act responsibly to address the issue in meaningful ways.

In a
speech delivered at the UN recently, Pope Francis sought the throw the weight of his moral authority behind meaningful action on climate change, stating outright that “a true 'right of the environment' does exist.” Explicitly connecting destruction of the environment to wealth inequality and other global human rights violations, he continued, “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.”

The Pope's speech at the UN follows the publication earlier this year of
Laudat o Si, his widely circulated encyclical on the climate and global inequality. In that document, the Pope wrote, “Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves.”

“Now,” the encyclical continues, “we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us.” Rather than facing separate crises in the climate and society, he argued, we are facing one; “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature,” he wrote.

The Pope described himself as “confident” that the COP21 talks “will secure fundamental and effective agreements.”

Following the Pope's speech, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed unequivocal support for its content.
At CNN, he wrote, “He rightly cited the solid scientific consensus showing significant warming of the climate system, with most global warming in recent decades mainly a result of human activity. And he has emphasized the critical need to support the poorest and most vulnerable members of our human family from a crisis they did least to cause, but from which they suffer most.”

Ban Ki-moon also made special reference to faith-based groups in general, commending them for often longstanding commitments to environmental and social justice. In many cases, faith-based organizations such as the
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to name but one, combine the moral imperatives of their faith with sustainable investment strategies designed to lessen inequality and transition to a low-carbon economy.

With December and COP21 rapidly approaching, it would seem that the ball is now in the court of governments and corporations. While both of the two entities most dominant in global systems have made efforts to address climate change to some extent, neither has done nearly enough to contribute to the growing social movement calling for serious attention to the crisis. It does not seem an exaggeration to observe that COP21 may well represent their final chance to get things right.


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