(Update) Climate Change Conference at The Vatican

On Tuesday, Pope Francis hosted a major conference on climate change entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development.“ The New York Times reports, Scientists and Religious Leaders Discuss Climate Change at Vatican:

dotpopeban-blog480[T]here was a sense of urgency at the Vatican on Tuesday when scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders discussed climate change and its impact on the world’s poor.

“We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said at an international symposium on climate change organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The event presaged a keenly anticipated papal letter on the environment that Pope Francis is expected to issue in June.

The pope is right to speak up for our planet, and the greater the impact the better.

Mr. Ban met with the pope ahead of the one-day conference here and told reporters afterward that the pope’s message in his scheduled papal teaching, known as an encyclical, would come at “a critical time,” one that “demanded a collective action.”

“Climate change is approaching much faster than one may think,” he said.

In September, the pope is scheduled to address Congress, as well as a United Nations summit meeting on sustainable development, where he is expected to reiterate his environmental message. The pope has said that climate change is “mostly” a result of human activity.

“I count on his moral voice, his moral leadership,” said Mr. Ban, who is leading efforts to come to an agreement on limiting human contributions to global warming, which will be discussed at a climate summit meeting in Paris in December.

Representatives of different religions spoke at the symposium, and a statement approved Tuesday by the participants (.pdf) underscored their environmental concerns: “These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home,” the statement read.

“Let the world know that there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science on the issue of climate change,” Mr. Ban told the assembly.

Pope Francis is not the first pope to address environmental issues, but his encyclical is expected to be the most comprehensive Vatican document so far on the links between sustainable development, concern for the poor and care of the planet.

The New York Times editorializes today, The Pope Joins the Climate Wars:

Since his papacy began in March 2013, Pope Francis has amply demonstrated his readiness to take on tough social and political causes. Now, much to the dismay of some conservatives, he is confronting human-caused global warming. A high-level workshop in the Vatican this week on the moral dimensions of climate change is one of several major events planned by the Roman Catholic Church in anticipation of an encyclical on the environment the pope plans to issue this summer. Though only the broad outlines are known, the encyclical is already raising hopes among environmentalists and deep alarm among climate-skeptics.

Though there is broad scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising, in large part because of the emission of greenhouse gases, international efforts to do something about it have been secular, political and largely unsuccessful. Conservative skeptics have actively campaigned to depict climate change as a hoax, while governments, especially in emerging economies, have been loath to take steps that might hamper growth.

The pope’s encyclical will not be the Roman Catholic Church’s first word on the issue. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, also linked environmental and moral issues, but his thoughts lacked the unique authority of an encyclical. Francis, moreover, has developed a far more engaged following than the scholarly and conservative Benedict, and his proclamation of what he calls an “integral ecology” linking development, concern for the poor and responsibility for the environment could well have an impact far beyond his Catholic fans.

Catholic conservatives have argued that the pope has no special authority to delve into matters of scientific fact. But that is no more than another attempt by climate-skeptics to pretend that there remains serious doubt about why the world is warming up or about the potential consequences. What remains is to acknowledge that we all have a moral responsibility to do something about it. As Francis put in a Twitter post this month, “We need to care for the earth so that it may continue, as God willed, to be a source of life for the entire human family.”

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The pope is right to speak up for our planet, and the greater the impact the better.

Finally, the Times’ “Dot Earth” blog (h/t photo) by Andrew Revkin writes, A Vatican Declaration Seeks Equitable Clean-Energy Access in a Livable Climate:

A daylong Vatican meeting on climate, energy, ecology and equity has produced a declaration that offers a promising vision for religious and secular leaders eager to foster a sustainable human journey. The event, attended by dozens of religious leaders, scientists, social and environmental campaigners and others, is part of Pope Francis’s campaign ahead of the release of his encyclical on the environment and equity. Read more in my initial post.

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 Here’s today’s “Declaration of Religious Leaders, Political Leaders, Business Leaders, Scientists and Development Practitioners“:

28 April 2015

We the undersigned have assembled at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences to address the challenges of human-induced climate change, extreme poverty, and social marginalization, including human trafficking, in the context of sustainable development. We join together from many faiths and walks of life, reflecting humanity’s shared yearning for peace, happiness, prosperity, justice, and environmental sustainability. We have considered the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the vulnerabilities of the poor to economic, social, and environmental shocks.

In the face of the emergencies of human-induced climate change, social exclusion, and extreme poverty, we join together to declare that:

Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity;

In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role. These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home;

The poor and excluded face dire threats from climate disruptions, including the increased frequency of droughts, extreme storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels;

The world has within its technological grasp, financial means, and know-how the means to mitigate climate change while also ending extreme poverty, through the application of sustainable development solutions including the adoption of low-carbon energy systems supported by information and communications technologies;

The financing of sustainable development, including climate mitigation, should be bolstered through new incentives for the transition towards low-carbon energy, and through the relentless pursuit of peace, which also will enable the shift of public financing from military spending to urgent investments for sustainable development;

The world should take note that the climate summit in Paris later this year (COP21) may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2-degree C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4-degrees C or higher;

Political leaders of all UN member states have a special responsibility to agree at COP21 to a bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives. The high-income countries should help to finance the costs of climate-change mitigation in low-income countries as the high-income countries have promised to do;

Climate-change mitigation will require a rapid world transformation to a world powered by renewable and other low-carbon energy and the sustainable management of ecosystems. These transformations should be carried out in the context of globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, consistent with ending extreme poverty; ensuring universal access for healthcare, quality education, safe water, and sustainable energy; and cooperating to end human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery. All sectors and stakeholders must do their part, a pledge that we fully commit to in our individual capacities.

It’s encouraging to see subtle, but significant, wording here, in particular the phrase “and other low-carbon energy” — code for both nuclear power and for “carbon capture” methods of using fossil fuels that capture and sequester carbon dioxide (which will need an awful lot of large-scale development before they can be seen as a climate-scale option).

Both have been included in the recent Deep Decarbonization Pathways analysis undertaken by one of the sponsors of today’s meeting, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

There’s plenty that’s missing, including any mention of the population factor that affects greenhouse gas emissions projections but also (and more importantly, to me) the extent of vulnerability of poor people in marginal climates.

But whittling is the inevitable result of trying to seek agreement among disparate parties, each with a varied range of interests and obligations.

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This is a fine start, and a helpful moment on the path through (not to) Paris.

After all, this is a long climate and energy march we’re on.

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