Francis: ‘We are at the edge with climate change, and the time to take action is now. The Earth is suffering wounds due to a predatory attitude. Let’s ‘create the future we want: a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world’

The Earth “has suffered from wounds that we cause due to a predatory attitude” and irresponsible use of natural resources. “These wounds manifest themselves dramatically in an unprecedented ecological crisis.”… “There is hope,” Francis added. “We can all collaborate, each with their own culture and experience, each with their own initiatives and abilities, so that our mother Earth returns to its original beauty and creation again shines according to God’s plan.” Franciscan Sr. Sheila Kinsey, executive co-secretary of the International Union of Superiors General’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, said its Sowing Hope for the Planet campaign laid the foundation for efforts aimed at religious congregations. Each congregation is encouraged to first make a commitment to Laudato Si’ — “one that is prophetic, public and accountable” — based on its charism.

The Vatican’s long-awaited program for putting Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical into action throughout the church debuted Tuesday, with the pope inviting all Catholics on a journey “to create the future we want: a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world.”

At the same time, a top Vatican official confirmed that the pope is pondering a journey of his own — a possible trip to COP 26, the next major United Nations climate summit, set for November in Glasgow, Scotland.

That news came at a May 25 press conference where the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development introduced the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The ambitious churchwide initiative outlines seven categories of sustainability goals in the spirit of Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” which emphasizes integral ecology. Seven sectors of the church are asked to achieve those goals within a seven-year timeframe.

The goals include:

  • Adopting renewable energy;
  • Achieving carbon neutrality;
  • Defending all life;
  • Solidarity with Indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups;
  • Adopting simpler lifestyles;
  • Fostering ecological education and spirituality;
  • Advocating for sustainable development;
  • Following ethical investment guidelines, including divestment from fossil fuels and other industries that harm the planet.

The platform includes goals for families, parishes and dioceses, schools and universities, businesses and farms, religious congregations, and hospitals and other health care facilities.Related: Inside the campaign to divest the Catholic Church from fossil fuels

The action platform was first previewed in May 2020, at the start of the Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year that the Vatican declared to raise attention and ambition around the encyclical. The end of that year marks the beginning of the next phase of implementing Laudato Si’.

Working groups for each sector have been meeting throughout the year to create benchmarks specific to their institutions and compile resources, toolkits and templates to guide groups on their own journeys to total sustainability as outlined in the encyclical. A full rollout is planned at the conclusion of the annual Season of Creation, on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Until then, church institutions can register to join the platform on its website, www.laudatosiactionplatform.org.

The site includes additional information about the action platform, the Laudato Si’ goals, and stories of how Catholics are already taking action to protect creation. It eventually will house a library of resources to help communities during their own seven-year processes.

In a video message, Francis said the Earth “has suffered from wounds that we cause due to a predatory attitude” and irresponsible use of natural resources. “These wounds manifest themselves dramatically in an unprecedented ecological crisis,” and have been further highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We therefore need a new ecological approach, which transforms our way of living in the world, our lifestyles, our relationship with the Earth’s resources and, in general, the way we understand people and the way they live their lives,” Francis said.

“I would therefore like to invite everyone to undertake this journey together,” he said, referring to the action platform and adding that only by working together “will we be able to create the future we want: a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world.”

“There is hope,” Francis added. “We can all collaborate, each with their own culture and experience, each with their own initiatives and abilities, so that our mother Earth returns to its original beauty and creation again shines according to God’s plan.”

Now more than ever, it’s time to act, to do something concrete,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which led the formation of the action platform. Related: 2021 seen as a year to make up lost ground on climate change

Work on the Laudato Si’ Action Platform began three years ago, sparked in part by a major report by the U.N.’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which outlined the disasters that hundreds of millions of people could suffer if the world warms beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report said carbon dioxide emissions must be cut nearly in half by 2030 to have a chance of meeting that target.

Since it was issued six years agoLaudato Si’ has been about action. Francis timed its release, in June 2015, to influence international negotiations months later at COP 21, the U.N. climate conference that produced the Paris Agreement and included the 1.5-degree target.

In mid-May, speculation that Francis might attend the Glasgow summit grew after John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy on climate, met with the pope at the Vatican and was later overheard on a video telling his staff he believed Francis would attend — an act the former secretary of state said “will have a profound impact.”

At the May 25 press conference, Turkson said he could not confirm that Francis would join a Vatican delegation at COP 26, but that “the request has been made and addressed to him.” He added there have been discussions of Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians known as the “Green Patriarch,” attending the climate summit together.

“We are hoping and we are keeping our fingers crossed,” Turkson said.

While popes have regularly sent messages to the U.N. climate summits, none has ever attended in person. This year’s meeting will be the first in two years, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is seen as critical, as nations are to present their new pledges aimed at meeting the Paris Agreement emissions-reduction target.

At the May 25 press conference, Nigel Topping, a high-level climate official for the United Kingdom, which is hosting COP 26, said church leadership on climate “has been fundamental” to progress made so far.

He applauded the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which he said “is about much more than building a zero-carbon economy. It’s also about building a fairer, healthier and more resilient economy where we transition away from a singular focus on profit and growth at all costs to a society and an economy where people and planet thrive.” Related: Pope Francis, in Earth Day messages, warns ‘we are at the edge’ on climate change

Topping said the platform aligns with top U.N.-led initiatives, particularly the Race to Zero, aimed at eliminating carbon emissions by midcentury, and the Race to Resilience, designed to prepare vulnerable communities for the impacts of climate change, some of which are already occurring.

Those campaigns, he said, “will enable us to tell a powerful story to governments about the whole of society’s desire for the very highest level of ambition and action on climate change.”

Organizers of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform also hope it will spur greater ambition among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and tens of thousands of church institutions to respond to the encyclical’s message of living in ways that better preserve nature and communities.

Creators of the action platform would like to see the number of participating institutions double each year. Salesian Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, head of the dicastery’s ecology and creation sector, said sociologists believe it takes just 3.5% of a group to reach the critical mass necessary to create lasting change.

“That’s what Mahatma Gandhi did, that’s what Nelson Mandela did, and we hope under the leadership of Pope Francis, within a few years in this critical decade, we can reach the critical mass,” he said.

A number of the church’s largest and most visible organizations are involved in working groups that are adapting the action platform goals for the various church sectors. They include Caritas Internationalis; bishops’ conferences; the major umbrella groups of women and men religious; regional ecclesial networks in the Amazon Basin, Central America, Africa, and Asia and Oceania; and other institutions like CIDSE, Catholic Health Association USA and the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Franciscan Sr. Sheila Kinsey, executive co-secretary of the International Union of Superiors General’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, said its Sowing Hope for the Planet campaign laid the foundation for efforts aimed at religious congregations. Each congregation is encouraged to first make a commitment to Laudato Si’ — “one that is prophetic, public and accountable” — based on its charism. The working group is developing suggested benchmarks for each of the Laudato Si’ platform goals.

Likewise, the working group on universities has been gathering materials and examples from campuses worldwide that others can use in their efforts to implement Laudato Si’. Matthew Worsham, energy efficiency and renewable energy manager at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and a member of that working group, told EarthBeat that the platform could make “a substantial impact,” especially in the area of energy. He hopes it will prompt more Catholic organizations to closely examine their energy use, and to install the “low-hanging fruit” of cost-saving efficiency upgrades.

“There’s a huge footprint that the church has,” Worsham said.

During the press conference, Kureethadam outlined a road map for the seven-year process. The first year is dedicated to community building, resource sharing and developing plans to achieve the Laudato Si’ goals. That is followed by five years of concrete actions to achieve the goals, and then a final sabbatical year “to praise and thank God.”

Carolina Bianchi, a youth member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said the action platform will help Laudato Si’ animators like her, who sometimes aren’t sure what different groups can do. She called it a sign that the church “is making progress in building the better future that Laudato Si’ calls us to build.”

“People all over the world are looking for hope,” she said “and the Laudato Si’ Platform for Action provides real hope.”

**

By Brian Roewe, NCRonline

This story was updated April 22 at 3:30 p.m. CDT with additional reporting. It was updated again April 23 at 9:30 a.m. CDT with details on other Earth Day celebrations.

In twin Earth Day messages, Pope Francis warned a gathering of world leaders and the global community at large that “we are at the edge” with climate change, and the time to take action is now.

The pope made appearances minutes apart April 22 during two virtual events marking Earth Day: the international leaders summit on climate organized by U.S. President Joe Biden, and the Earth Day Live livestream organized by the Earth Day Network. In both, Francis urged presidents and prime ministers to act courageously in addressing climate change, and to learn from the coronavirus pandemic the need to create “a just, equitable, environmentally safe planet.”

Both the global catastrophes, Covid and climate change, prove that we do not have time to wait,” Francis said in a pre-recorded video for Earth Day Live. “Time urges us, and as COVID-19 demonstrated, we do have the tools to face the loss. We have the instruments. This is the moment to act. We are at the edge.

“We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, purer and that it is conserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us,” Francis said later to the summit.

The pope was one of more than three dozen heads of state — from countries that together represent more than 80% of total global greenhouse gas emissions — who took part in the virtual climate summit convened by Biden.

Francis called the gathering “a happy occasion” and said it was an initiative that puts all of humanity on a path toward better stewardship of nature and accomplishing goals of the Paris Agreement at the next United Nations climate conference, COP 26, scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“It is a challenge we face in this post-pandemic time. It has not yet ended, but we will, we must, look ahead, because it is a crisis,” Francis told the world leaders. “We know that one does not emerge from a crisis the same: We emerge either better or worse.”

The two-day Biden climate summit was intended to signal the U.S. return to a leadership position in international climate change diplomacy. To that end, Biden announced a new U.S. target under the Paris Agreement, committing the country — the largest historic emitter — to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

The pledge nearly doubles the first U.S. climate target under the Paris accord, made in 2015, and puts the U.S. on a par with the European Union and United Kingdom for the most stringent targets. Nevertheless, scientists and climate activists say they are still not enough to meet the higher Paris goal of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a shortcoming that several leaders, including U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, acknowledged during the summit.

Many of the leaders at the summit welcomed the new U.S. target and the nation’s return to the Paris Agreement — one of Biden’s first moves in the Oval Office after former President Donald Trump briefly pulled the country out of the deal as part of a de-emphasis of climate and environmental issues during his administration.

In his opening remarks, Biden said that the cost of not acting on climate change “is mounting.”

“No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” the president added. He called on countries, especially the largest economies, to step up their ambition, including providing greater financing to help vulnerable countries mitigate the impacts of climate change and adapt to a warming world.

Along with the new U.S. target, Biden announced the U.S. would double its climate financing to developing countries by 2024.

“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe we will do this.”

“We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, purer and that it is conserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us.’
—Pope Francis on Earth Day

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Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union, added that “this will be the make-or-break decade for our climate.”

Other nations, including Japan and Canada, also announced ramped-up climate goals, referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions, while others like South Korea, South Africa and Bangladesh said they intended to submit new targets in the coming months.

China, currently the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, restated its goal of peaking emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. President Xi Jinping said the globe’s largest coal consumer would “strictly limit” its coal use in the next five years before phasing it down.

And Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who once threatened to pull out of the Paris accord, said he would move up the country’s net-zero target by a decade, to 2050, and end illegal deforestation by 2030. Earlier this month, Catholic organizations pressured the Brazilian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon, which has risen sharply in the past two years, and to protect Indigenous and traditional communities in that region.

As world leaders listed steps their countries were taking, youth climate activists at the summit and around Washington, D.C., raised some of the loudest voices pressing that far more be done.

Xiye Bastida, an 18-year-old activist from Mexico and part of the Fridays for Future movement, delivered a strong and direct message at the summit, telling the assembled leaders, “You need to accept that the era of fossil fuels is over,” before laying out a list of youth demands that included carbon neutrality by 2030; an end to fossil fuel investments, subsidies and infrastructure; and that the transition to a renewables-powered economy include frontline and vulnerable communities and avoid the “sacrifice zones” of past fossil fuel development.

“You will often tell us again and again that we are being unrealistic and unreasonable, but who is being unrealistic and unreasonable with unambitious, non-bold, so-called solutions? You are the ones creating and finding loopholes in own legislations, resolutions, policies and agreements,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, Greta Thunberg appeared virtually before the House Oversight Committee and called it “a disgrace” that taxpayer money continues to be used to subsidize fossil fuels, saying “it is a clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all. “How long do you think you can continue ignoring the climate crisis, the global aspect of equity and historic emissions, without being held accountable? Sooner or later, people are going to realize what you have been doing all this time,” Thunberg said, adding, “You still have time to do the right thing and save your legacies, but that window of time is not going to last for long.”

In a statement, Jose Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said the summit, along with Biden’s American Jobs Plan, were “positive steps our nation can take to uplift the dignity of all people and address climate change.” An interfaith statement from 13 religious organizations, including Interfaith Power & Light and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, offered “prayers and our hopes for moral leadership” during the summit” and that the U.S. respond to climate change “with urgency, fairness and equity.”

“Addressing the scale of this problem in all its dimensions requires us, and indeed all stakeholders, to embrace a whole community approach, with government taking on a significant role,” the faith organizations wrote.

Officials with the Maryknoll Offfice in their own statement applauded the summit, calling it “a good step forward in the right direction.” Chloe Noël, its faith, economy and ecology program coordinator, said the U.S. commitments “make a just and equitable recovery possible,” adding that climate projects worldwide have to include local community participation and respect human rights and environmental integrity.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of the Jubilee USA Network, was encouraged that the summit included a diverse representation across geography, industry and varying economies. He added it was an important signal that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke and that debt relief for developing countries be considered in conjunction with sustainable investments in those regions.

The White House summit follows a similar virtual summit hosted by the United Nations in December to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement. At that gathering, Francis committed the Vatican to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Efforts are also under way to ramp up action within the global Catholic Church. Next month, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is expected to launch its Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which aims to catalyze Catholic parishes, dioceses, schools, hospitals and religious orders to put into action the messages of Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Bill O’Keefe, head of advocacy with Catholic Relief Services, told EarthBeat he hoped they hoped the White House summit would re-energize world leaders around climate change, and especially “robust funding” for the Green Climate Fund and other foreign assistance to help countries suffering the effects of climate change with adaptation measures. He said Francis’ presence at the summit keeps people on the periphery in the forefront in discussions about climate policy.

“We hope that he will be able to highlight the reality that Catholic Relief Services sees every day, which in summary is that those who did the least cause this problem — the vulnerable farmers in South Sudan, the urban residents in coastal areas in the Philippines — they’re the ones who are being most impacted and their needs need to be front and center.”

In introducing Francis at the summit, Kerry said, “Few have used their voice in more profound fashion to shape the global climate movement than His Holiness, Pope Francis,” adding that “he not only helped make the Paris Agreement possible, but has continued to bring his humble message of justice and solidarity to so many of the world leaders gathered here today.”

During his Earth Day Live message, Francis said, “We are becoming more and more aware that nature deserves to be protected … with the utmost care and respect” for the planet’s biodiversity. Once the destruction of nature is triggered, he added, it becomes difficult to stop.

“But we still have time,” he added, urging people and countries to work together toward innovations and new pathways to make the world a better place than before the pandemic.

“This is the challenge,” Francis said. “And if we do not emerge better, we will start on a path of self-destruction.”Across the country, Catholics joined in the Earth Day celebration.

Holy Family School in Philadelphia held its first schoolwide neighborhood cleanup. The Catholic Climate Covenant encouraged parishes and other groups to hold screenings of the 2019 documentary “The Condor & The Eagle,” which chronicles Indigenous leaders in North America and South America as they connect in their shared fights to preserve critical ecosystems against extractive industries.

A coalition of five Catholic organizations on April 23 kicked off a 21-day environmental justice challenge to spotlight the connections between racism and ecological issues. Partners of Interfaith Power & Light, which this year marked its 20th anniversary, continued their annual Faith Climate Action Week, focused this year on the theme of “sacred ground” and the connections between food, faith and climate.

Numerous Catholic universities held events on campus. Villanova University hosted climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who debunked four myths about environmentalism. King’s College, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, hosted a discussion on environmental ethics. Seattle University held its second series of Earth Talks.

At Gonzaga University, the Jesuit school launched its new Center for Climate, Society and the Environment. The interdisciplinary center aims to provide students and faculty, along with the Spokane region in eastern Washington, with resources, research and skills to face the challenges brought by climate change. gu climate center.jpg

On Earth Day, April 22, Gonzaga University debuted its new Center for Climate, Society and the Environment. A launch event featured a panel that included, from top left, senior Marisa Montesi, center director Brian Henning, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, KeyOn Earth Day, April 22, Gonzaga University debuted its new Center for Climate, Society and the Environment. A launch event featured a panel that included, from top left, senior Marisa Montesi, center director Brian Henning, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, and environmental activist Bill McKibben. (EarthBeat screenshot)

The launch event featured accolades from prominent leaders within the church and Washington state, including both its U.S. senators; Jesuit Fr. Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Society of Jesus; and Salesian Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, head of the ecology and creation sector of the Vatican’s integral human development dicastery. Gov. Jay Inslee joined a panel discussion alongside environmental activists Bill McKibben of 350.org and Keya Chatterjee, the executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network.

Chatterjee said she hoped the center would inspire a new generation of students to lead in pushing for action on climate. When asked her advice to young people who feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue, she encouraged them to get involved, so as to “feel like you have some agency over the situation.”

Inslee, a top politician on addressing climate change, said he was “thrilled” to see Gonzaga take on a leadership role on climate. He, too, encouraged students to lead in their professional careers, whether they enter the environmental sector, business or something else. More than anything, the governor urged them not to let up on insisting to those in power that more be done.

“We need the impatience of youth. It demands it. We do not have much time in this effort,” Inslee said .Read this next: As Earth Day approaches, US bishops call Catholics to do their part

Brian Roewe is NCR environment correspondent. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter at @brianroewe.

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