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Paris may cool the air but freeze ambition

HONG KONG (SE): Reflecting on the agreement made by world leaders at the Conference of Parties on Climate Change on December 12 at his midday talk on December 13, Pope Francis drew a connection between the Ministerial Conference on World Trade that was scheduled to be held in Nairobi on December 15, as well as with the opening of the Holy Door to inaugurate the Jubilee of Mercy in cathedrals around the world.

He called on delegates to the Nairobi gathering to remember the poor and vulnerable, and to ensure that it expresses legitimate aspirations for the least developed countries in the world.

“The climate conference has just ended in Paris with the adoption of an agreement, being called historic by many. Its implementation will require a concerted commitment and generous dedication by all,” Pope Francis said.

“Hoping that it gives special attention to the most vulnerable populations, we urge the international community to continue the path taken promptly, in a sign of solidarity that will become more and more active,” he continued.

He then called on trade ministers to keep the common good of the entire human family as their utmost value in negotiations, noting, “In all the cathedrals of the world, the Holy Doors are opened, because the Jubilee of Mercy can be fully lived.”

Turning to the climate deal, he said, “The current negotiation text will soon be adopted as the new and only universal deal on climate change. Mass mobilisation and pressure came from the people as they took to the streets and it is due to this pressure on politicians that we now see a reference to a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise target.”

He said that this gives a mechanism to transparently review progress and increase countries’ commitments, adding that substantial and predictable funding should also be forthcoming to ensure that all countries can play their part in reducing emissions to near zero over the coming decades.

However, Michael Roy, from the Caritas Internationalis delegation that was present throughout the fortnight-long talks, took a different angle.

“We were hoping for courage and creativity from leaders to tackle climate change, yet the draft agreement lacks ambition and does not offer an adequate solution to this global emergency, which is affecting millions of the most vulnerable people on Earth,” he said.

“While the essential connection between climate change, poverty eradication and equitable access to sustainable development has been made, it is regrettable that human rights are not at the core of the draft climate agreement and we should avoid vested interests prevailing over the common good,” the secretary general of Caritas reflected.

Heinz Hödl, also from the Caritas delegation, said, “Inspired by the words of Pope Francis, together with hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world, we called on governments to consider the moral dimension of political decisions in relation to climate change and to put the poorest communities who are suffering the most from climate change impacts at the centre of the debate in Paris,” he explained.

He added that the draft deal does nothing to protect land rights, as the agreement treats land as a means of offsetting emissions in the draft deal, which gives no consideration to people living on those lands and could undermine their livelihood and way of life.

“This gives big polluters a chance to grab land to offset projects and displace indigenous communities, while reducing arable land and continuing to increasing emissions at home,” Hödl pointed out.

A member of the Philippine congress, Neri Colmenares, was more direct in his criticism, saying that the struggle for climate justice did not end in Paris after 196 nations voted to adopt a draft agreement curbing global warming.

“The Paris agreement is not the climate solution nor the justice we hoped and fought for,” he said, adding that the emission cuts promised in the deal are neither equitable nor even scientifically viable.

However, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community called the adoption of the agreement by 195 countries a great leap forward, saying, “The Paris agreement proves that governments are capable of reaching agreement and working together when what really matters is at issue. This is good news for humanity.”

It adds that there is a real commitment to solidarity between wealthy countries and poorer ones.

The commission then notes, “It has to be emphasised that the work to achieve authentic ecological conversion flagged by Pope Francis is his encyclical is only beginning and engages all the world’s citizens.”

Nicholas Stern, a British economist, said, “It is a turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change which threatens prosperity. It creates enormous opportunities as countries begin to accelerate along the path to low-carbon economic development and growth.”

Kumi Naidoo, the International director of Greenpeace, commented, “It will put the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history.” 

However, he added that the emission targets on the table are not big enough and nations that caused the problem have promised too little to help the people who are already losing their lives and livelihoods.

Father Sean McDonagh pointed out that an important factor that has been omitted from the agreement is aviation fuel and bunker oil used in shipping, which currently are responsible for emissions equivalent to Germany and South Korea combined.

But from a Church point of view, he said it was a big sign of hope as at previous Conferences of Parties gatherings it has been mostly noticeable by its absence.

However, the longtime campaigner for the Church to take up the issue said that in Paris the reverberations from Pope Francis’ encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’), were highly audible.

However, he notes, “Despite major omissions, the Paris agreement demonstrates that global cooperation has the potential to steer us onto a safer path for both people and the planet.”

The agreement reaffirms the US$100-billion ($745 billion) green climate fund for the adaptation of vulnerable countries, but that is way below the more than US$1 trillion ($745 trillion) that the president of France, François Hollande, estimates will be necessary.

In all events, it is refreshing to see at least one international crisis being addressed by world leaders without deciding to drop bombs on anyone.

 

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