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The Pope elevates the climate debate in his encyclical

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Lesley-Anne Knight, CEO of the Elders, considers the Pope’s encyclical on climate and hopes its message will serve to galvanise governments to take bold steps in the lead up to the pivotal climate meeting in Paris later in the year.


Photo: Alfredo Borba

I applaud Pope Francis, who has so decisively shown global leadership through his encyclical Laudato Si. His intervention in the debate over climate change in the run-up to three major UN summits, including that in Paris in December, where 196 countries will meet to sign a new agreement, is bold, courageous and inspires hope. He urges all people to reconnect with nature. He tells us the urgent challenge to protect the planet, which is our common home, includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can and must change.

Like the global financial crisis, the climate change crisis can be seen in terms of excessive borrowing: we have borrowed from the atmosphere and biodiversity of the future. The developed world has also borrowed from the development potential of poorer countries. These ‘loans’ must be repaid – there is no global atmospheric fund that is going to bail us out of this crisis. Those who are in the best position to take action also have a responsibility to do so.

The inescapable conclusion is that – in a spirit of solidarity and care for our common home – the excesses of the past must give way to more moderate lifestyles that permit the development of all peoples and future generations. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.

Pope Francis is calling for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Most people will agree that while the current use of fossil fuels has fostered and continues to foster substantial economic growth, development and benefits for many, there is a legitimate concern that as poorer countries improve their economies they will need technological help to mitigate further environmental harm. I hope that in addition to bold national commitments to climate action, the 2015 agreement in Paris will also establish an overarching goal for all nations to reach a state of carbon neutrality by 2050 in a manner that is equitable and supportive of the development aspirations of all countries. The new climate agreement must pay particular attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the rights, livelihoods and opportunities of the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. They must include measures to support them in adapting to changes in the climate and reap their fair share of the benefits of the transition to a carbon neutral world.

The Elders believe that the answer to the climate change crisis lies in the hands of humanity – in a revived sense of solidarity across the generations and a realisation that we all have a duty to work towards the common good. We would agree with Pope Francis that we need “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (Laudato Si, para 14)

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