Tuesday 7. April 2020
#187 - November 2015

Laudato si’ – a robust contribution to COP21

Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, explains the influence which he believes Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ may have on the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris.

Laudato si’ is a formidable document. It is not a “green”, ecological or climate-change text, but a full social encyclical in the Church’s tradition going back to Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of 1891. Laudato si’ may well make a robust contribution to COP21 in the following ways:

 

Ten virtues and principles

The first way is through its articulation of virtues and ethical principles that should shape negotiations about climate change policy. These are essentially taken from the Social Doctrine of the Church and include staples of Catholic theological ethics: the virtue of prudence, that is to say “right reason applied to action”; justice, which gives each person his or her due as a child of God; temperance, which moderates sense pleasures and consumption; fortitude, which strengthens resolve against adversity; a commitment to protect human life and dignity; a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; solidarity, that is to say, a firm commitment to the common good, including that of our neighbours and of future generations; respect for the common destination of created goods; subsidiarity, which guides us to respect the autonomy and strengths of others and to assist them in a respectful manner; and integral ecology, the innovative term that Pope Francis uses to name the ancient awareness that all of creation – both human and non-human individuals, groups and systems – are fundamentally interconnected.

 

These virtues and ethical principles can open up the negotiation and decision-making to the needed commitments at global, national and local levels. In their absence, I am afraid, Paris will be business as usual. Previous summits “have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements.”

 

Practical judgements

A second way that Laudato si’ can shape the road to Paris is by appropriating the sorts of practical judgments which Pope Francis illustrates. He insists that the Global North has consumed resources disproportionately and contributed to ecological harm; therefore, it must repay its ecological debt to the Global South. He emphasizes the need to remove the influence of special interests from politics. He urges countries not to “place their national interests above the global common good.” He decries an ideology that cares only for economic profit, absolutizes technology and material progress, and discounts ecological concerns. He advocates for investments that take the ecological costs into account. He asserts that “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels -- especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas -- needs to be progressively replaced without delay”.

 

Thus, from the ten traditional principles, Pope Francis derives relevant concrete recommendations. The negotiators and deciders at Paris are urgently encouraged to do likewise in forging a fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement.

 

Political action

A third catalyst that Laudato si’ can offer is via the actions of others whom it inspires and guides. At the World Meeting of Popular Movements in July, Pope Francis recognized that justice often requires prudent political action from elected officials, yet it is often not enough simply to rely on high-profile leaders for action: “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites.” Rather, “it is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”

 

Thus the 50 000 representatives – 25 000 official delegates and 25 000 other participants – who gather for the COP21 will need ethics and virtue, and more. A successful COP21 will require the organized efforts of citizens who apply the Pope’s message in the halls of power and demand that leaders act courageously on behalf of the poor and the planet. This is what, on 29 November, millions of men, women and children in the streets of Paris, London, Berlin, São Paulo and 3 000 other cities will be marching for. May everyone exercise ecological citizenship “with a sense of solidarity which is at the same time aware that we live in a common home which God has entrusted to us.”

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

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