Today we have the opportunity and privilege of being in Bonn, Germany at the United Nations climate change conference 'COP 23'. These international events are well attended, with government and civil society organizations represented by hard-working people steeped high in technical, political, economic, and scientific discussions on how to tackle climate change. It's inspiring to see so many people and so much energy mobilized around climate change, but beyond these furiously busy meetings, how is this translating into real commitments, real change? How does this address the reality that millions of people are facing as we speak? People are drowning, disasters are multiplying, coasts are eroding, masses of people are migrating, species are disappearing and though we can hide from the immediate effects, we can't afford to delay our commitment any longer.
Perhaps for a moment, we need to leave the technical language behind and reconnect to something more profound and fundamental. Almost three years ago, Pope Francis released his groundbreaking, and some have even said 'revolutionary' Encyclical Laudato Si', which put forward a message of disarming clarity: there are not two crises, but only one. The climate and social crises which we are facing, are inextricably interwoven. All is interconnected. The Pope's words have infused new energy and hope in the climate change movement, linking it to the work of the social justice, anti-poverty, and human rights movements. Maybe those making the decisions at these negotiations about the future of climate action need to be reminded of some of its key messages, and of some of the very practical and valuable guidance it can provide moving forward.
Urgency. The first message Laudato Si' puts out is one of urgency. Clearly, we need much more ambitious climate goals and much shorter timelines than those currently on the table. There is no time for procrastination when people and their livelihoods are already directly affected, nor when the balance of our ecosystem is under severe threat.
New beginnings. Laudato Si' inspires us to see the climate challenge as an opportunity to reframe our relationship with the environment, ceasing to see nature as something separate from ourselves or as a setting in which we live. As of now, we could recast a vision of our common future through a just transition, which leaves no one behind and creates decent, environmentally sustainable and responsible jobs in a new economy. Undertaking climate action, that requires massive public investment in food and agriculture, housing, energy, mobility, education..., is an opportunity to reorient our planning and actions to serve humanity –the 'Common Good,' beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable. This is the cultural shift or revolution Pope Francis refers to because it changes our perspective on growth and refocuses on living within the planetary boundaries.
Redefining progress. We have long been trained to believe that progress came from technology, economic growth and more production and consumption. We now know that this model is unsustainable. What if we were to redefine our needs with regards to development, to reframe our understanding of what it is to have a healthy and successful existence and what if that success and progress came from well-being and harmony between us and with our environment? Pope Francis also reminds us that it is crucial to change divisions of power and access to influence, ensuring that policy and action is shaped by meaningful engagement and decision-making. Again, the people should be at the core of it all as no solution imposed from the top-down can prosper.
Alternative energy.There are more viable alternatives to our current carbon-energy dependent lifestyles. For instance, we can easily imagine leaving behind the greenhouse gas and carbon emission intensive model of industrial agriculture in favor of a model that ensures food security and sovereignty to communities through agro-ecological practices. Similarly, local electricity systems powered by renewable energy sources, like solar, wind and hydropower, are in most cases the quickest and cheapest ways of connecting people, the vast majority in rural areas, who live in electricity-poor households. Nearly three billion people lack access to modern cooking methods. There is a real opportunity to invest in solutions that address both climate change and energy poverty: what all these measures have in common is to put the people first, allowing communities to build resilience and thrive. In designing climate action, Pope Francis also teaches us that it is crucial to change divisions of power and access to influence, ensuring that policy and action is shaped by meaningful engagement and decision-making.
Change starts with us. We are also and most importantly invited by the Pope to make a personal and spiritual transition. 'We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.' Striving for personal betterment, whether inspired by religious or secular humanist tradition, is a longstanding and perhaps eternal task. But now we have the additional motivation of a global existential crisis to focus our minds and our hearts. We need to question our priorities. Each litre of petrol that feeds a needlessly large personal vehicle, each tonne of coal burned to power luxuriously large homes, each hectare of land cleared to provide for meat-intensive diets must be seen as a trade-off for the welfare of the poor today and in the future. Indeed, Laudato Si' calls for no less than a global climate mobilisation, demanding our political attention, material resources, personal diligence, spiritual commitment and global solidarity.
Hope. The situation is not hopeless, not so long as there are people of good will, working to improve things, not so long as we know that we belong to one another and need each other and care for life on this planet. The stories we hear from communities facing dramatic climate change are not just stories of struggle, but also inspiring stories of change. Options exist, human ingenuity and creativity exist and local and indigenous knowledge can be better shared to spread another narrative about the outcome of this crisis. These voices are also in Bonn. One need only quiet down the busy chatter of the negotiations for a moment to hear their stories and tap into their wisdom. The answers might just come if we from the wealthy and powerful nations stop talking for a moment and start listening to each other, to our own hearts, and to the Earth. And with this, we must take action – together.
Josianne Gauthier is CIDSE Secretary General and Neil Thorns is CAFOD's Director of Advocacy. CIDSE launched today (15 November) a new paper, Climate Action for the Common Good at the UN climate talks in Bonn, to encourage governments to respond to the climate challenge in a way that reflects the spirit of Pope Francis's landmark encyclical Laudato Si'.