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The pope is faithful to the watch

In his encyclical, Praise Be: On Care for our common home (Laudato Si’), Pope Francis applauds current efforts to “substitute fossil fuel and develop sources of renewable energy… and to develop adequate storage capacity” (No.26).

The production of renewable energy is growing. Global investment in clean energy jumped by 16 per cent in 2014 with the cost of producing solar energy dropping by two-thirds between 2009 and 2014.

By 2016, green energy will provide double the electricity of nuclear plants and outstrip every other source of electricity, except coal. But still, the growth in renewable energy is not sufficient to stop dangerous climate change, because our appetite for energy across the globe is also growing, which is why new gas and coal-fired power stations are planned in a number of countries, especially China and India.

Still, Pope Francis is encouraged by the efforts being made. He believes that even poor countries must “develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet.

Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources (No.72).

The pope points out, “In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy” (No.179).

Still there is much that governments can do to promote renewable forms of energy. An editorial in the Observer on August 30 bemoans the decision of the British government to slash subsidies that help families and small businesses install solar panels.

The editorial claims that David Cameron’s administration has decided to abandon nearly all its commitments to protecting the environment and its pledges to create new green technologies that could wean us off our urge to burn fossil fuels.

At a local level, individuals, parishes and dioceses could conduct an energy audit to ascertain how much fossil fuel they use. Better insulation of Church buildings would help reduce the amount of fossil fuel used in heating or air conditioning.

Using public transport would also cut down on fossil fuel consumption. Catholic institutions should look at their investment portfolios to ensure that financial resources are not invested in fossil fuel companies, but directed to renewable energy initiatives.

Young Catholics in parishes and dioceses could be involved in ongoing monitoring of these green initiatives.

The Church also needs to encourage local and national governments to enact robust climate change legislation. It should also support the efforts of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting to have a robust, ambitious, legally binding and fair treaty on climate change signed at the meeting in Paris in 2015.

The pope recognises that this might not be easy since “recent world summits on the environment have not lived up to the expectations, due to the lack of political will, and they were unable to reach meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment” (No.166).

But critics of the Catholic Church would argue that it has not taken a prominent position in these talks, unlike the World Council of Churches, which has always sent a delegation of experts to the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change.

Many commentators believe it is crucial that the Paris meeting be a significant success to begin the process of de-carbonising our industry and culture.

With the publication of Praise Be, no one can accuse the leadership of the Catholic Church of not taking a stand on climate change in the run-up to Paris. 

Pope Francis has shown himself to be the true watchman, sensitive to the dangers facing everyone (Ezekial 33: 6).

He has also challenged and emboldened us to take the necessary steps in order to avoid this catastrophe.

Father Sean McDonagh