The pope is clear that we all have a responsibility to take action to curb climate change, declaring that polluting the water, soil, air are all sins
The call today by Pope Francis in his transformational papal encyclical on the environment, reminds us that climate change is first and foremost about people, and it’s the poorest among us that will suffer the most.
“The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: ‘Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest’…we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
As we at Oxfam have highlighted for nearly a decade, climate change hits poor communities first and worst. It disproportionately affects those most vulnerable and least able to adapt to more frequent and more severe storms, droughts, and floods.
Worse yet, climate change threatens to derail global efforts to combat hunger and poverty and is only exacerbating inequality around the world.
As a humanitarian organization, we see this playing out every day as we respond to increasing humanitarian crises and work with communities to build their resilience to more extreme shocks and changing weather patterns.
The pope is clear that we all have a responsibility to take action to curb climate change, declaring that polluting the water, soil, air are all sins. And he calls especially on citizens and governments to take the necessary steps to reduce emissions and increase resilience: “Because the enforcement of laws is at times inadequate due to corruption, public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls.”
“The reduction of greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, especially by the most powerful and the most polluting countries,” he said, challenging leaders to rethink the development model based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.
While some will claim that limitations on carbon pollutants will hurt the poor by limiting economic opportunity, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, low-carbon, climate resilient development is in many cases inherently pro-poor. Solutions, such as clean, distributed energy technologies, actually do a far better job at providing poor communities with energy access and improving livelihoods. Oxfam’s own research has uncovered that the best solution to energy poverty and energy access in sub-Saharan Africa is one that favors smaller-scale clean technologies over large-scale fossil fuel generation.
Indeed, adapting to the reality of climate change means doing things differently than before. And that also means helping poor communities who are on the front lines to increase their resilience.
In 2009, Oxfam pushed for the establishment of a fair and equitable international climate fund to help poor countries transition to low-emissions, climate resilient economies. We envisioned a fund that would support countries in mapping out their own pathway towards sustainable, resilient economic growth. Now called the Green Climate Fund, the Fund is operational with more than $10 billion pledged by 28 countries.
President Obama stepped up last year pledging $3 billion to the Fund from the United States as an investment in human security and economic development abroad, but just last week, the House of Representatives failed to fulfill the President’s budget request of $500 million as the first installment of this commitment.
The encyclical is being highly celebrated by the Catholic community, and religious community more broadly, and is already being put into action by some U.S. Bishops, including Miami’s archbishop Thomas G. Wenski who is planning a summer of sermons, homilies and press events designed to highlight the threat and impacts of climate change on his community’s poorest and most vulnerable. But some, including high profile Catholics who are running for President, are turning against the pope.
Perhaps Members of Congress will be more open-minded when the pope himself addresses them directly at a joint session of Congress in September. Because only when world leaders and indeed all of us heed the pope’s moral leadership on climate change and inequality, will our societies become safer, more prosperous and more equal.