Petition seeks 'strong Catholic voice' demanding action on climate change

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

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Seeking to amplify their voices, a global network has called Catholics to sign onto a petition urging world leaders to take meaningful steps toward addressing climate change.

On Monday, the Global Catholic Climate Movement unveiled the petition, which seeks to display “a strong Catholic voice” of concern on climate change ahead of international negotiations set for Paris in December.

“Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people. Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts,” reads the petition, accessible on the movement’s recently revamped website.

No goal number of signatures has been set, but the movement hopes to deliver those it gathers to world leaders -- inside and outside the church -- ahead of the Paris climate talks, formally known as the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Patrick Carolan, executive director of the U.S.-based Franciscan Action Network, said signatures would be given to the papal nuncio to the United Nations and various cardinals, including Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, Philippines, in addition to U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and officials in other countries and at the U.N.

Carolan told NCR that the petition is a way to raise awareness on the issue of climate change, but also a way to allow people to feel like a larger part of the solution.

“It can help them start to think about, What can I do as an individual? What are the actions I can take?” he said. “It’s not just about signing a petition then, it’s about changing my lifestyle a little bit and cutting back on my carbon footprint a little bit.”

On the Catholic Ecology blog Monday, Bill Patenaude, one of the movement’s founding members, said that it was the experiences of everyday people -- from farmers, fishermen and gardeners noticing changes, to those pummeled by natural disasters -- that prompted the need for the petition, “to be heard and to do something and to demand that our leaders act.

“This need is growing because so many people feel that they have no way to contribute solutions to a big and frightening problem,” he wrote.

In calling for a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit to temperature rise -- a more ambitious target than the 2 degree Celsius benchmark often touted as the threshold of tolerable temperature rise to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change -- the Catholic movement sought solidarity with a group of international bishops that called for the same limit in a letter to delegates at international climate negotiations in December in Lima, Peru.

The U.N. talks will shift to Paris this December, where world leaders could finalize and sign a potential binding agreement for all nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The negotiations in Lima led to an agreement that each nation would voluntarily pledge their emissions-reducing commitments by the end of June.

Despite that deal, Pope Francis said he was “disappointed by the lack of courage” shown by delegates in Lima. In a message delivered toward the end of negotiations, the pope said that decisive climate action “is a grave ethical and moral responsibility,” and warned that there exists “a clear, definitive and unpostponable ethical imperative to act.”

That papal directive was cited by the Global Catholic Climate Movement in issuing its petition. They have invited individuals, parishes and other communities worldwide to not only sign on but also promote it and collect signatures in their parishes and communities.

The petition also arrives during a week where the pope has cleared his calendar in order to finish his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment and human ecology. The teaching document is expected to be released during the summer and to address, among other themes, climate change.

Francis has eyed the encyclical to “make a contribution” to the Paris negotiations. It was during an in-flight press conference on his way to the Philippines in January that the pope expressed his disappointment with the Lima talks and added “Let’s hope that in Paris the delegates will be more courageous and will move forward with this.”

Asked whether humans have mostly caused climate change, the pope responded, “I don’t know about entirely, but mainly, for the most part, it is human beings who abuse nature, constantly. We have in some sense begun to lord over nature, sister earth, mother earth. … I believe that man has gone too far. Thanks be to God, today many, many voices speak out about this.”

The climate action petition represents the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s second major initiative. On Ash Wednesday, it launched a global fast for climate justice, with thousands of Catholics in 56 different nations each taking a day during Lent to abstain from food and limit their energy usage. The fast moved to Kenya on Tuesday, with the U.S. participating a week earlier.

The Catholic climate movement has grown rapidly since its mid-January launch with a coalition of 19 organizations. Today, the network -- a mixture of lay Catholics, clergy and religious, scientists and activists -- includes 70 organizations from around the world.

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

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