Pope’s encyclical casts blame for climate change on indifference of the powerful

Pope Francis calls on the rich nations of the world to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change.

Pope Francis has called on the rich nations of the world to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to humanity, in his encyclical, published earlier today.

The 180-page encyclical on the environment was leaked by Italian magazine L’Espresso earlier this week and it has turned out to be a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels. The document also however, lays blame for climate change at the feet of the powerful and indifferent.

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” Francis wrote.

“In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”

The encyclical includes a section devoted to the latest scientific findings on science to describe what he calls an “ecological crisis” and argues that, not only is climate change a “global problem with serious implications”, but it is one whose impact is being disproportionately felt by the poorest in the world.

Francis writes: “Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”. The failure to respond, he says, points to the loss of a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded”.

He calls access to safe drinkable water a “basic and universal human right” and that depriving the poor of access to water is akin to denying the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity”.

Although the pope did not speak at the press conference this morning, earlier in the week he had said he hoped that his message would be received with an open spirit.

This was not the first statement about global warming by the pope, who has previously expressed disappointment on the failure to reach an effective global plan to tackle the problem. But he faces an uphill battle in converting those who treat the issue with doubt.

Even among Catholics in the US, views on global warming are sharply divided on political lines. According to the Guardian, a recent survey by Pew Research revealed that Catholic Republicans view the nearly universally accepted scientific facts about global warming with deep scepticism; a majority of 71% believe earth is warming and about half (47 per cent) believe humans are the cause and that it is a serious problem. However, while 8 in 10 Catholic Democrats say that there is solid evidence that global warming is real, only about half of Catholic Republicans agree. Far less - just one quarter of Catholic Republicans - believe that global warming is caused by humans.

Reactions to the Pope’s encyclical

 Friends of the Earth Malta’s has been one of the many organizations to react to the document.

“The Pope has shown impressive and inspiring leadership where many elected leaders have failed. He is both a friend of the earth and of the millions of people in poorer, vulnerable nations whose lives are already being shattered by extreme weather.   Addressing climate change is a matter of justice: those who have contributed least to causing the crisis are suffering the greatest consequences.” Martin Galea De Giovanni said.

De Giovanni pointed out that the Pontiff has joined a long list of religious leaders, social and environmental movements, youth and labour movements, and indigenous peoples who are addressing climate change with resilience, solidarity and compassion.

“Pope Francis is echoing the demands of communities and movements around the world who want real solutions now. We need measures that benefit everyone and not corporate-driven false solutions.”

"We commend the work of communities and movements globally who have long worked to restore the balance of life on earth, implementing renewable community energy solutions, resisting dirty energy and uniting to build the movement for climate justice."

De Giovanni added that those who owe the biggest ecological debt, industrialised countries, must now act with urgency and ambition. Dirty corporations that have long abused our planet have driven us to the brink of environmental and social catastrophe.

"Pope Francis’ words today meet the surge in popular demand for urgent, ambitious and equitable action to address the climate crisis."

"Pope Francis calls for us to get off the pesticide and techno-fix treadmill that claims to feed the world but in reality is “often at the service of finance and consumerism," he pointed out

"The real solutions to feeding the world and nurturing our planet are in the hands of small scale food producers. Food sovereignty and agroecology provide us with peoples’ knowledge and science and this is where we need to provide support."

He added that in the run up to the critical climate summit in Paris and in its aftermath, politicians must follow his lead, ditch dirty energy vested interests and unleash the massive potential of the clean economy.

John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK has said that he hopes the document will help people around the world to engage with the really important part of the climate debate – not whether it’s happening, which is a question science has already answered, but what we should do about it, which is the greatest moral challenge facing this generation.

"Greenpeace welcomes the valuable intervention of Pope Francis in humanity's common struggle to prevent catastrophic climate change,” International Executive Director at Greenpeace Kumi Naidoo, said.

Naidoo added that this was the first encyclical on the environment and it  brings the world a step closer to that tipping point where fossil fuels are abandoned in favour of clean renewable energy for all, by the middle of the century.

"Everyone, whether religious or secular, can and must respond to this clarion call for bold urgent action.”

Naidoo added that the environment is a public good, the heritage of all humanity and the responsibility of us all.

“Greenpeace has always taken that view. That's why, with the support of millions of people, we aim to stop Shell drilling for oil in the melting Arctic.”

"The wording that ‘technology based on fossil fuels, highly polluting - especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser extent, gas - must be progressively replaced and without delay’ is a crystal-clear call on responsible investors, CEOs and political leaders to step up the pace of the clean energy revolution. 

Naidoo added that the criticism of ‘those who hold most of the resources and economic or political power seeming to be concerned mainly in masking the problems or hiding the symptoms … of climate change,’ is a welcome rebuke to climate change deniers and the interests that seek to thwart progress. 

"Above all, Pope Francis reminds all of us, individuals through to world leaders, of the moral imperative to address social and climate injustice. It is the poor who are most affected by catastrophic climate change, yet they have contributed least to causing the problem." 

The UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres said the church’s newly unveiled teaching on the environment underscored the “moral imperative for urgent action” on climate change.

“This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year,” she said in a statement. “Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now.”

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim agreed: “Today’s release...should serve as a stark reminder to all of us on the intrinsic link between climate change and poverty.”

He said that the impacts of climate change were most devastating for the “unacceptably high number of people living in extreme poverty”. Extreme weather events had taken the lives of more than 2.5m people and resulted in $4 trillion in damages.

“We must now seize this narrow window of opportunity and embark on ambitious actions and policies to help protect people and the environment,” he added.

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