Well our little band of climate campaigners from Columban JPIC and Westminster Justice and Peace set out for Le Bourget today, the venue in North Paris for the UN Climate Summit. At many metro stations there were COP21 helpers, dressed in green, pointing us in the right direction. At Le Bourget station there were free buses to ferry a mix of people from small country delegations, journalists and assorted others like us to the venue. We did stand out though - we did not have badges of accredation like nearly everyone else on our bus, and indeed we found that we could not get into the venue. This was not entirely unexpected, especially when the helicopter overhead suggested heads of state were in the vicinity and security, while not oppressive, was tight. We will be back tomorrow when the fringe meetings start nearby, organised by non-governmental organisations.
Just chatting on the bus, it was interesting to see the bemusement of some of the journalists that a faith lobby to the talks has been active these past few days. One, who writes for a US magazine, looked up my blogs on his phone, very pleased to find out that the Catholic Church and other churches and faiths were engaged with the climate change issue. The failure of the mainstream media to give attention to faith groups means that alternative media is especially important, otherwise most people would have little idea of the contribution of faiths to this great issue of our times. Fr Joe Ryan, one of the Westminster Laudato Si' cyclists, gave an interview to a Portuguese TV crew outside COP21, fascinated that a Christian group cycled from Britain to lobby COP 21 for a strong agreement.
So, as COP21 started today, global leaders voiced their commitments to craft a long-term deal to limit carbon emissions. Some - such as David Cameron - are already back home, leaving negotiators to draft a document between now and 11 December. The gathering of 147 heads of state and government is bigger than the 115 or so who came to Copenhagen in 2009, the last time the world came close to agreeing a long term deal on climate change. From Barack Obama, David Cameron and Xi Jinping to the heads of tiny Pacific island states, they took to the stage in Paris to tell the world they would act. "One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism - the presumption that we can't do anything about climate change," said US president, Barack Obama. The sheer number of heads of state in Paris is a sign of hope, but whether today's strong rhetoric translates into strong action remains to be seen. As UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon put it, "we have never faced such a test and a political momentum like this may not come again".
Let's hope they are as serious as university students who have been pushing disinvestment from fossil fuels by their universities in the UK and the US. Today the University of Sheffield announced it will divest £39 million from fossil fuels companies within the next academic year. This comes days after the London School of Economics announced divesting £97.2 million from coal and tar sands. Nineteen universities in the UK have now sent a clear message to those inside COP21 that young people want the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry to end. A commitment by world governments to keep 80% of fossil fuels underground would be the strongest signal yet that the days of dirty, dangerous fossil fuels are over.
And let's hope they are as serious as the Vatican. This year is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Right now, commitments by world governments are falling short of where the world needs them to be, and that is why faith groups are standing with scientists and climate campaigners, particularly in the global south, who are fighting for their lives and livelihoods. Columban missionaries are among those Catholic groups which have long seen the links between climate change and social concerns such as global migration, conflicts and war, economic poverty, and unsustainable development models. Their missionary commitments in response to the damaging impacts of climate change and inter-related concerns include: ongoing ecological conversion, formation, advocacy, inter-religious dialogue, community development, and socially responsible investing. Such efforts have been given an endorsement by Pope Francis, and particularly in Laudato Si'.
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes from Brazil, who is here in Paris and who provided a pair of the 'marching shoes', has released a statement explaining very clearly what the Catholic Church wants to see coming from COP21 and why. The link to the full text of his statement is given at the end, but his introduction is significant: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." He says: "these words from the popular prayer attributed to St Francis come to my mind as international negotiators and the world's religions gather in Paris seeking to address climate change." He recalls that Pope Francis said in his encyclical Laudato Si' that peace and the protection of creation are united goals.
And he acknowledges that in preparation for the COP21 climate talks, an inspiring number of Catholics have heard this teaching and mobilised globally. "From Sao Paulo to Berlin, from London to Manila, together they cry out for the planet, for the poor and the indigenous,and for future generations so that the world may know peace" he says; "It was a profound honour to represent the 840,000 Catholics who have made themselves instruments of God's peace by signing the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) petition". He continues that, "inspired by Pope Francis and the Laudato Si' encyclical," the GCCM petition states, "we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous 1.5°C threshold, and to aid the world's poorest in coping with climate change impacts." Cardinal Hummes has called on the COP21 negotiators to develop the international frameworks needed for a climate of justice, which will protect creation and will help bring peace to all the world.
Cardinal Hummes on the Catholic Church's call for a strong climate agreement
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