U.S. bishops: COP28 must heed ‘cry of the earth’ and ‘cry of the poor’

(OSV News) — Efforts to meet climate goals must heed both the “cry of the earth” and the “cry of the poor,” said two U.S. Catholic bishops leading committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“No government will be successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the long run if it requires a significant increase of the energy costs of middle- and low-income citizens,” said Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The two bishops issued a joint statement Nov. 29 ahead of COP28, the United Nations’ annual meeting on climate issues.

Named for the “Conference of the Parties” that signed the original 1992 U.N. climate agreement, COP28 is taking place Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The COP gatherings are held under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which entered into force in 1994 and now counts 198 parties (representing 197 countries plus the European Union).

COP28 calls for a global assessment of response to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aimed to hold the increase of average global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius — and eventually to 1.5 degrees Celsius — above pre-industrial levels.

The conference also is seeking to spark four paradigm shifts: fast-tracking energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030; establishing climate finance that is affordable, available and accessible to developing countries; centering climate action on nature, people, lives and livelihoods; and including women, local communities, Indigenous peoples, faith-based organizations and other entities in the COP process.

Pope Francis was initially scheduled to travel to Dubai to address COP28 participants, but canceled his appearance Nov. 28 as he recovers from a respiratory illness.

According to a BBC News report released the same day, air quality across the Gulf region, including in the UAE, has been significantly degraded by toxic pollutants released during flaring, the burning of waste gas during oil drilling.

People stand for a moment of silence for victims in Gaza Nov. 30, 2023, during the opening day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Efforts to meet climate goals must heed both the “cry of the earth” and the “cry of the poor,” the chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees said in a joint statement Nov. 29. (OSV News photo/Amr Alfiky, Reuters)

In their USCCB statement, Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Zaidan quoted Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Laudate Deum” (“Praise God”), issued Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, as a follow-up to his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.” The exhortation warned that “the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” making climate change “one of the principal challenges facing society and the global community.”

“As Pope Francis emphasized in “Laudate Deum,” the climate crisis is an opportunity to reconfigure international relations toward the common good, ‘demonstrat(ing) the nobility of politics,’ where, as brothers and sisters all, we can achieve ‘a decisive acceleration of energy transition,’” said Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Zaidan.

The bishops said that despite “tremendous growth” in the global development of renewable energy, “the global economic system remains largely powered by fossil fuels.”

Weaning the world from that dependence is “the preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations,” said Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Zaidan, which they added “cannot be achieved alone through the efforts of individual persons or even nations and will require long-term cooperation by all.”

In his letter to the COP parties, COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, also stressed the need for unity as “more than ever … a prerequisite for success.”

Such unity must also offer “justice for the poor,” which “constitutes an essential test of ethical climate policy,” said Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Zaidan in their statement, pointing to the “3.3 billion people worldwide with limited energy and 700 million without any electricity.”

“In other words, climate goals must represent both the ‘cry of the earth’ and the ‘cry of the poor,’ and include the financial support by developed nations for adaptation, resilience and recovery of the most vulnerable,” they said.

In a September 2021 report, the International Monetary Fund noted that “climate risks disproportionately affect the poorest countries and people,” and that climate change stands to cause greater inequality between and within countries. At the same time, the IMF report noted that “actions taken to curb warming could have an unwelcome effect on inequality, if climate policies prove too burdensome for poor countries.

“Such actions need to be complemented by measures to offset the costs on the poor and vulnerable across and within countries,” it stated.

On hand at COP28 to emphasize that point is a delegation from Catholic Relief Services, the global humanitarian and development organization of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

In addition to participating in various panels and side events, CRS staff are advocating for several key policies at COP28 as outlined in its policy brief “COP28: The Case for a Quantum Leap in Climate Action.”

Among the priorities for which the CRS team seeks to advance are meeting the $100 billion climate finance goal and contributing to the Green Climate Fund, the main financial operating entity under the U.N.’s climate change convention — all while “emphasizing the moral imperative to protect the planet and support the most vulnerable,” the agency announced Nov. 29.

“We believe that faith can be a powerful catalyst for environmental stewardship,” said Gina Castillo, CRS’ policy adviser for climate change, in a press statement. “Pope Francis, in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si,’ calls for an ‘integral ecology’ that respects both the environment and human dignity. This message is at the heart of our advocacy at COP28.”

In their letter, Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Zaidan assured the “all leaders and participants of COP28” of their prayers “as they work to care for our climate.”

Answers to some of those prayers may already be in sight: During COP28’s first day, pledges to the Loss and Damage Fund — which was created at COP27 to aid nations most vulnerable to changes in the climate — reached “north of $420 million” within the first hour, COP28’s president announced.

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @GinaJesseReina

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