Pope Francis and international climate policy
Three years after its publication, the Encyclical Letter remains an essential reference point for establishing a fairer, more sustainable, world order. This was demonstrated recently in Brussels at the launch of the new Report to the Club of Rome, in which Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, one of the principal authors, repeatedly made reference to the Encyclical. The second part of the Report begins with a section under the subheading “The Pope Raises his Voice”, with numerous quotations from the letter.
Laudato sí is a document that is both dramatic and hopeful. Dramatic because it leaves the reader in no doubt that the prevailing global system, with its reckless exploitation of natural resources and dangerous climate change, is heading for catastrophe. Hopeful because the Pope does not consider this dynamic to be inevitable, but instead indicates ways to alter our course and opportunities for transformation. In this context, he speaks of a “bold cultural revolution” (LS 114). This is closely connected to his concept of an “integral ecology” and an “ecological conversion”. He calls for another way of looking at things, “a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm.” (LS 111)
Historic changes begin with ideas. This is also highlighted by the new report to the Club of Rome, which calls for a “new philosophy” and a “new Enlightenment”. The ecological crisis is both a social crisis and a crisis of values. What is the value of living? What gives life substance and meaning? Ultimately, this is a matter of the truth of one of the key verses of the Gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Unbounded pursuit of profit in the context of unbridled capitalism destroys both the environment and people’s souls. We need to rediscover some simple truths: sharing enriches. Being human means acting altruistically for others. The humanity of a society is judged by its behaviour towards its weakest members.
With Laudato sí, Pope Francis has succeeded in triggering an extensive dialogue between the political and business worlds and civil society. The broad resonance of the Encyclical is also due to the fact that it is not limited to describing potential disaster scenarios, but shows specific courses of action. The next important step for the Church will be the Pan-Amazonian Synod in the autumn of 2019, the theme of which will be “Amazonia – new pathways for the Church and an integral ecology”. The next major UN climate change conference (COP 24) will be held in December 2018 in the Polish city of Katowice, and matters under consideration will include ensuring that the CO2 reductions promised by each state are comparable with one another and using this as a basis for obtaining further climate protection commitments. Progress must also be made on the financial commitments of industrialised nations to support poorer countries against the consequences of climate change.
The issue of climate change is one of justice – a central message of the Encyclical Laudato sí, which has drawn renewed attention to the Church’s social doctrine. This was recently confirmed, somewhat surprisingly, by British newspaper The Guardian, which is not usually known for its Catholic apologetics: “The answer proposed by Catholic social teaching, and presupposed by most progressive thought, is that we should be working toward the common good. This is distinct from the fulfilment of individual wants, and will sometimes be opposed to them; but in the long term it may be the only way to satisfy our partially selfish and partially altruistic natures.”
Martin Maier SJ
Translated from the original text in German