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Our World on the Brink – Climate Change

Our World on the Brink – Climate Change


Climate change is very much the topic of the moment and has been for some time now.  Last week the eyes of the world were on Glasgow and the Climate Conference (known as COP26), which is being attended by many world leaders including American President Joe Biden.

The meeting began on 31 October and will continue until 12 November.  COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties.  Established by the UN, COP 1 took place in 1995 – this is the 26th such event.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made for a very sober reading, warning that unless there are immediate grand reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it will not be possible to limit global warming.

The UN Secretary-General described its contents as a “code red for humanity”. There is now no doubt that human activity is causing our planet to warm, with the impact being felt across all regions and all systems.  The IPCC report also said it will get worse.  However, it did offer some hope saying governments need to take immediate action now, and if they do it might be possible to avert disaster.

Global Warming 

Although people use the terms interchangeably global warming is just one aspect of climate change.

Global warming refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  These are gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat.

As a result, temperatures are rising worldwide and there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas.  Droughts are becoming longer and more extreme around the world.  Tropical storms are becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures.   Habitat for the Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea is disappearing from beneath them as the warming climate melts away Arctic Sea ice in the spring, forcing the large mammals to haul themselves out of the ocean and temporarily live on land.

We all remember the heart-breaking image of a starving polar bear clinging to a small piece of ice.

Climate Crisis

The changing climate is causing parts of the world to become uninhabitable for human beings.  Recently, we witnessed devastating floods bringing destruction to Belgium and Germany, killing more than 200 people and leaving hundreds missing and thousands of homes destroyed in one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in decades.

In the USA record temperatures have literally burned entire homes to the ground, forcing people into emergency shelters.

In the Third World, many communities have been feeling the devastating effects of the climate crisis for decades, as it has threatened their food and water sources, their livelihoods, and their homes.  In East Africa, two million people are on the brink of a hunger nightmare due to drought and conflict exacerbated by global warming.

Letter from Pope Francis

For Christians, proper care of the environment is tied in with our awareness that God created humanity as stewards of creation, to aid the natural world and all that inhabits it in the fulfillment of its purpose.  Pope Francis has brought this duty to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness with his encyclical Laudato Si’.

This is the first social letter in the Catholic Church to address the complex social and ecological crisis in a direct and specific way.  It complements what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, which is that it is our responsibility to care for our world and not ‘steal’ resources from future generations. Laudato speaks of the intrinsic value of all creatures, not just humans, and of protecting the climate and biodiversity as part of the common good.

At the root of the crisis is our tendency to place humanity over and above the rest of creation.  This is closely linked to the technocratic paradigm – the idea that we have confused the increase in control and manipulation of the world with progress.

Instead, we need a new definition of progress rooted in “integral ecology”, recognising that “everything is connected” and hearing both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.  Pope Francis calls for all people to dialogue in society about how best to tackle the global issues we face.

From Paris to Glasgow

In December 2015, the year the encyclical was published, international leaders met in Paris to secure a global climate deal.  World leaders were making critical choices about the environment that could impact the lives of millions of people, especially those living in the poorest countries. In this context, Laudato Si’ could not have been more relevant.

The Paris Agreement united all the world’s nations – for the first time – in a single agreement on tackling global warming and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Fearing the Worst -Hoping for the Best

Six years on as we await the conclusions of the Glasgow Summit the encyclical is as relevant as ever.  During this time, we have seen some progress; in June 2019 the UK became the first major economy in the world to commit to ending its contribution to climate change by setting a net-zero emissions target.

As host nation, the UK will likely want all countries to back a strong statement that recommits to net zero emissions by 2050 – as well as big reductions by 2030.  It will also want specific pledges on ending coal, petrol cars, and protecting nature.  Developing countries will want a significant financial package over the next five years, to help them adapt to rising temperatures.

Anything short of this is likely to be judged inadequate because there simply isn’t more time to keep the 1.5C temperature goal alive.  Scientists say this temperature would avoid the worst impacts of climate.

Sadly, many scientists also believe that world leaders have left it too late and no matter what is agreed at COP26, 1.5C will not be achieved.

We must all hope and pray that the scientists are wrong.

Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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