Papal envoy to UN: Climate change 'an issue of justice for everyone'

This article appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

Addressing climate change is “an issue of justice for everyone” and one requiring global cooperation, the Vatican envoy to the United Nations told the international body Friday.

“No one is exempt from either the impacts of climate change or our moral responsibility to act in solidarity with one another to address this global concern,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva.

Tomasi’s comments came during the 28th session of the Human Rights Council, during a full-day discussion on human rights and climate change.

“Solidarity with the most vulnerable nations and peoples that are experiencing the impact of climate change in a more prominent and immediate way impels us to contribute to improving their situation and defending their right to development.

“Poverty and climate change are now intimately linked,” he said.

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The connection between poverty and climate change was also made by Administer Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during her January meeting with Vatican officials, as did the fifth assessment report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The archbishop cited statistics that estimate 600 million people will face malnutrition as a result of climate change, with particularly high rates in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, he said that the estimated 1 billion people worldwide living in urban slums, fragile hillsides and flood-prone river banks -- all areas vulnerable rising sea levels and storm surges -- have “the human right to adequate housing.”

Tomasi’s address comes as the latest strong statement from the Vatican on the issue of climate change. Pope Francis has stated he has timed the release of his encyclical on the environment, which will likely address climate change, so it can be discussed before the next round of U.N. climate negotiations, scheduled for December in Paris.

"There was a lack of courage," the pope told journalists in January of the negotiations in Lima, Peru. "Let’s hope that in Paris, they are more courageous."

The encyclical is expected to be released in June or July.


Related: “Catholic group launches global climate-focused Lenten fast


Tomasi described the Paris climate talks as offering “a significant opportunity to make two ethical decisions”: first, for all nations to commit to curbing carbon emissions at the minimum level “to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” and second, for them to fund adaptation measures, such as the Green Climate Fund, in order to assist nations and people facing the greatest dangers.

“While science continues to research the full implications of climate change, the virtue of prudence calls us to take the responsibility to act to reduce the potential damages, particularly for those individuals who live in poverty, for those who live in very vulnerable climate impact areas, and for future generations,” he said.

The first deadline for countries to submit their individual carbon-cutting plans -- a result of the Lima Accord reached last December, and fueled by pledges made before international negotiations by the U.S., China and the European Union -- comes in March. A second follows in June.

Together, those commitments will serve as the basis for a potential internationally binding agreement to address climate change for world leaders to sign in Paris.

In his speech, Tomasi stressed that the new agreement include binding measures and that it rest on the idea that “climate change is, in fact, an issue of justice for everyone.”

“Both developed and developing countries have a responsibility to protect: they constitute the one human family of this earth with an equal mandate to manage and protect creation in a responsible manner to ensure that also our future generations find a world that allows them to flourish,” he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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