Millennium Post

Climate negotiations and the Pope

Pope Francis is on his way to address the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development that begins on September 25 in New York. He has emerged, in a way, the most effective negotiator and the leading environmental diplomat for developing countries. His encyclical also augurs well as possible game-changer in the climate talks in Paris later this year, called by many as ‘window of opportunity cracked open for the world to take action’. Pope Francis’s 246 paragraphs of ‘encyclical’ is an unusual read. It was issued three months before the United Nations General Assembly meeting to agree on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and six months ahead of the defining gathering of Head of the States meeting on climate in Paris (COP21).

The uniqueness of the document stems not only from the Pope’s developing country origin but from its intended audience. The document addresses not just 1.2 billion Catholics of the world but almost <g data-gr-id="61">every one</g> or ‘every child of our Mother Earth’ as encyclical intends. More than that, the Pope argues very effectively on the points that developing country negotiators have been drumming, without any impact, for the last 23 years since Agenda 21 was adopted and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed.

Three years back, in 2012, at Rio+20 meeting, the world leaders agreed on the ‘Future We Want’. That document provided a mandate for all countries to propose the post-2015 SDGs. The global meeting of the world leaders to agree on these SDGs starts this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York. These two events would shape the Post-2015 world. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its synthesis report of the fifth assessment by thousands of scientists around the globe and reviewed by the governments. It delineates science, derives impacts and urges solutions. An encyclical by the Pope staunchly supports the climate science, recalls the faith and dares, mainly developed countries, to take moral responsibility for the state of the world today.

In a way, it provides a human face to the IPCC report and the document the ‘Future We Want’. The release of the encyclical in June 2015 demonstrates the perfect sense of timing by the Vatican. Apart from the timing of the release, it’s the unwavering support of the science of the climate change and the way it wraps the reader into the fabric of challenging <g data-gr-id="58">warps</g> of faith and wefts of morality.
Its uniqueness has one more historical dimension. History of Church amply indicates that the Popes and the papal community themselves had been ‘deniers’ of the emerging facts and science in the past mainly to safeguard their interests and power. Those acts have committed historic wrongs that caused huge and long-term damage to the way we deal with the game-changing and faith-shaking emerging science.

More than 350 years ago, Catholic Church condemned Galileo Galilee for publishing a conclusive analysis that the Sun and the rest of the cosmos did not orbit the Earth. Galileo was forced to recant his proposition. That was before the advent of the industrial revolution that triggered the global warming. More recently, 150 years back, after the commencement of the industrial revolution, the Church called it as atheist view and condemned Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection.

Church has been responsive of its mistakes, and it has apologised for its stand of opposing and denying Galileo’s Copernican astronomical theory. The Vatican has also clarified that there is nothing incompatible with the Bible’s theory of theistic evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution. And now, Pope Francis does not fall into the trap of putting theistic interpretations above the climate science unravelled by the IPCC and even proposes the way forward. When the United Nations is on the verge of finalising the post-2015 roadmap by convening the world leaders, Pope Francis is fully embracing the principles embedded in Agenda 21. Polluters pay, precautionary approach and common but differentiated responsibility - CBRD - are steadfastly advocated by him throughout the encyclical.

The Pope has told the world’s rich nations to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps to tackle climate change. “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.” Developing countries have been echoing the same since 1992, in the global environmental negotiations. Stating that the United Nations talks have failed to achieve the desired goal, he declares that 23 years of summits have produced “regrettably few” advances in cutting carbon emissions.

His hitting statement that a flag the arguments of developing country negotiators is: “The failure of global summits on the environment makes it clear that our politics is subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their plans will not be affected.”

He, surprisingly, denounces the market mechanisms, hotly favoured by the developed countries, like carbon trading and CDM. He calls them quick and easy solutions that do not allow for the radical change demanded by the situation. He unwaveringly exposes the developed countries by calling market mechanisms a ploy that permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.

The Pope’s best defence for the fast growing population in the developing countries comes when he argues that the lifestyle with fast pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that we are now facing the catastrophes of unprecedented degree. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some is one way of refusing to face the issues, he proclaims. It is <g data-gr-id="64">time</g> that the leaders of the developed countries seek a window of confession, reconciliation or penance to absolve themselves from mortal and moral sins.

(Rajendra Shende is chairman of the TERRE Policy Centre. The views expressed are personal)
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