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Keynote speech by Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle

CIDSE / CI High level Dialogue on Climate Change
Sept 26, United Nations, New York

Keynote speech by Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle

“Challenged for a transformative change and integral ecology. A reading of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ in the context of Climate Negotiations.

Your Excellencies and dear friends,

Introduction: contrast between those who struggle to survive and those who overconsume
Laudato si, mi Signore. Praise be to you my Lord. Pope Francis´ encyclical is one of praise of God´s goodness in creation. But when we look at what is happening to our planet, would we be moved to praise? Laudato si invites humanity and creation to sing again.

In many parts of the world families try to survive in the midst of poisonous waste and pollution. They exist on a tightrope between floods and droughts. Life seems to be strangled from the time children are born. But in wealthier parts of the world people often consume and throw away resources seemingly mindful only of their own needs. Both scenarios could exist in the same country. Even in my own part of the world, I witness how over-consumption and waste inflict wounds on mother earth and take precious resources away from the poor. Indeed the urgent cry of the earth and the cry of the poor call for our intent hearing.    

We witness what goes wrong and propose integral development

The Church in different parts of the world and Catholic organizations witness daily, along with the rest of humankind, the effects of the degradation of our natural and social environments: lack of access to water, land and food, disasters provoked by extreme climatic conditions, illnesses, premature deaths, loss of biodiversity, and extreme poverty. I had the sad experience of presiding at the funeral of two children who died after eating food that their father had picked up from the garbage cans. Why should food first be turned to garbage before being eaten by the poor? All this is in large measure due to a model of growth that is not sustainable either for people or for nature – a growth that excludes the poor. A truly sustainable development centred on the human person, especially the outcast, can only be promoted by a renewed culture of personal encounter and fraternal love and by an economic vision based on solidarity, caring for the ecology, fair trade, ethical finance and the promotion of the common good. We are not dealing with statistics or figures but with human beings whom we should regard as neighbours. 

We heed Pope Francis’ invitation. This is the right moment.

In his warmly received encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis called each of us to enter into a dialogue on caring for the earth, our common home, and to undertake a mission to save it by restoring our right relationship with God and the human family, especially the poor. The pope asks what kind of world we want to leave to our children and the generations after them (#160). 2015 is a crucial year for humanity. Three significant multilateral processes are taking place that will set the tone for development for many years to come: financing for development, sustainable development and action to tackle climate change. Here, in New York we have just witnessed the completion of the second of these major multilateral moments. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed upon yesterday. An important piece of international policy is now in place and should be implemented collaboratively and constructively by listening to the experiences, priorities and perspectives of people with direct experience of poverty, marginalisation and injustice. We welcome all the Goals, but especially the new ones which address some of the most pressing challenges of our times, such as SDG 12 on responsible production and consumption, and SDG 13 on taking action on Climate Change.  However one important stream of negotiations is still underway, with attention now focused on the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that will take place in Paris in December 2015. We urge the Parties to agree on a fair and lofty or ambitious outcome. 

Pope Francis´ new encyclical could not have been published at a more timely moment. Recognising that the negotiations on climate change had become stagnant, the Encyclical challenges all of us, but especially the political leaders, to review critically what is commonly accepted as ‘human’ progress and to consider the authentic well-being of our human family, the poor and the planet. This deeply human concern affecting concrete persons must be the addressed with political will. 

The last chance? We need ambitious decisions in Paris, especially to move away from fossil fuels

We know that the climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015 could well be the last effective opportunity to negotiate an agreement to keep humanly induced rise in global temperature below 1.5 degrees centigrade. But Pope Francis goes beyond this by saying that “the establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable.” (#53) Our earnest desire and hope is for a fair and binding global agreement on climate change that has the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at its heart.

The Long-Term Goal to stay below 1.5 degrees is crucial if we truly care for our common home and the poor. This goal has to be matched by action now, before and beyond 2020. It should have mechanisms which allow us to monitor and elevate the level of accomplishment through review cycles, rather than being content with low levels of achievement. It also means moving away from economic models exclusively based on fossil fuel extraction and consumption, to sustainable, affordable and inclusive energy systems and economies which ensure participation, equality and equity at all levels. We need new models of development that would not harm the climate further and would lift people out of poverty. Poor communities need to be consulted about the development that they desire and would be beneficial to them. Central to all of this is ending the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions, and phasing in 100% renewables with sustainable energy accessible to all. 

Tackling climate change is crucial to integral ecology.

From the perspective of integral ecology where our concern for the environment goes hand-in-hand with preferential love of the poor and the search for common good, tackling climate change directly touches the eradication of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Integral ecology demands a human rights-based approach in the Paris agreement. In particular, to ensure the right of every person to have access to adequate food at all times, we hope for an agreement that recognizes the primacy of food security for all. 

The global North´s ecological debt.

An ecological debt is owed by the global north to the global south, due to the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time resulting in the economic imbalances and inequalities that we see today.  This debt which is also inter-generational must be recognized and settled by those who possess more power to effect change by cutting gas emissions and by providing climate finance. At least 50% of public finance should go towards helping developing countries meet their adaptation needs. Without these reparations it is not fair to ask from the poor countries who are most severely affected by climate change to do more. 

Everyone has a role to play. We need conversion and solidarity.

Although we as Catholics should be hopeful, we are not naïve. Political processes, though necessary, are inadequate in solving problems related to creation. Pope Francis calls all of us to “ecological conversion”. Everyone therefore has a role to play. With God´s grace we must free ourselves of what is negative, wasteful and violent and enter into dialogue with our global family. This requires a process of global communication and listening in truth, a global examination of conscience, a global recognition of failures and guilt, and a global resolve to fight the harm already done. We need to see our human vocation to live with and for the family of creation as stewards and not owners. This requires that we be energetic, driven and creative but never domineering and abusive. Pope Francis challenges us to review our values and lifestyles. He calls for a culture of global solidarity, where those who historically have consumed more may restrain themselves so that by living simply, others may have the means to simply live. We need to recover gratitude, generosity, caring, nurturing and sharing as antidotes to unbridled accumulation and individualism. As we witness the horrific flow to Europe of people fleeing from war and oppression, we also see that healing power of solidarity in the warm welcome and generous support from people across the globe. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato si’, “we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental”. (#139) 

A call to action

We have laid down the challenge to world leaders and decision makers. I call upon all of you in this room, attending this historic 70th General Assembly at the United Nations to use whatever influence or authority you may possess to arrive at decisions that will set humanity on a different path. You are all gifted communicators with access to those who could effect change. As Pope Francis stated: ”Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most”. (#169) True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. (#178)  I know and trust that in this room, in this conference centre, in this City there are people with conscience and courage to lead humanity in a new direction. Pope Francis asks: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?  (57)” If leaders of nations work together decisively in addressing the global climate crisis, their respective nations would come out stronger and better served. Caring for our common home could tear down ideological barriers separating nations and replace them with bridges of mutual concern.

COP21 could be the start of a long term shift in how to tackle climate change. The Catholic Church stands with those who are committed. But after the negotiation in Paris, we will face the need for urgent action. How will the political momentum generated in Paris lead to a profound transformation for us all? As members of the human family, we must act on our own ecological conversion. The message of the encyclical must permeate society from the poorest people who suffer unjustly to the elite who have enormous power to bring about global change and yet often shy away from this responsibility.

We, as Church leaders, have the role of ensuring that the Christian faithful take to heart the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical by promoting a Christian spirituality of ecological integrity. In the Philippines the Church has been taking some initiatives and action like 1) the formation of parish communities and leaders in disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, including networking with government, NGOs and the business sector, 2) the formation of the government and business sectors on the social teachings of the Church particularly in the areas of inclusive growth, integral development and caring for creation, 3) a prophetic disinvestment from companies with a poor track record on environmental responsibility, 4) pastoral directives and letters to protest illegal and indiscriminate practices that harm the environment, 5) programs of recycling, the production of organic products, hygiene, nutrition and sustainable livelihood promoted by Caritas and ecology ministries, 6) the celebration of the liturgical Season of Creation from September to October to inculcate a spirituality of praise and stewardship, and 7) supporting the signature campaign of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.   

We invite politicians and policy-makers, business people, scientists, artists and educators, parents and children, colleagues and families, to work together for the common good, respecting the dignity of each person, and especially of the poorest and most vulnerable people. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things. If we allow God´s love to inspire us, our work will show forth that same love which could transform climatic “global warming” into a warming of hearts for the poor of the world.