Catholic groups underscore the poor as UN climate talks open in Peru

Climate negotiators from Peru and the United Nations participate in the site inauguration of the 20th U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru, Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Raul Garcia, EPA)

Climate negotiators from Peru and the United Nations participate in the site inauguration of the 20th U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru, Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Raul Garcia, EPA)

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Should the world community reach a climate treaty next year in Paris, it must first make progress in Peru, where the latest round of international negotiations began Monday.

An annual occurrence since 1992, the United Nations climate change talks have garnered a greater spotlight this year, as the proceedings in Lima, Peru, are viewed as an important stepping stone to a possible binding Paris agreement aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

In Lima, negotiators are expected to develop a draft document outlining nations' reduction pledges, as well as possible aid for mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. World leaders would then meet in France in 2015 to sign the agreement, which would go into effect in 2020.

As a pre-conference webinar put it, “There is no Paris without Lima.”

Events in the weeks before the Lima summit, formally known as the 20th Conference of the Parties and which continues through Dec. 12, have given rise to optimism that an international agreement might materialize, in particular a pact between the world’s two largest economies -- and largest carbon polluters. On Nov. 11, the United States announced it would cut its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, while China committed to lowering its emissions by 2030, if not earlier.

Even with these pledges, the New York Times reported that skepticism remains whether an international agreement, at this point, would prevent temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) -- the mark climate scientists view as a “point of no return” in avoiding the most extreme effects of climate change.

Those impacts include sea level rises, floods, droughts, food shortages, higher frequency of forest fires and more intense extreme weather events, all in addition to warmer temperatures worldwide.

As talks move throughout the two-week summit, religious groups have vowed to raise their voices, particularly for those most impacted by any climate treaty impasse: the poor.

Three days before the Lima negotiations opened, Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE -- an alliance of Catholic development agencies -- urged negotiators to make the poor a climate change priority.

“Fighting climate change is a human rights obligation to ensure that the poor who are most vulnerable to climate change have access to food, education and healthcare and can create a stable life for their families,” said Bernd Nilles, CISDE secretary general, in a statement.

Added Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, “Communities in certain areas of the globe live on a knife-edge.”

“They don’t know if they’ll have enough food for the coming season,” he continued, “they worry that their homes will be destroyed and their children will not be able to continue their schooling if floods or drought disrupt their family life once more. We cannot continue to stand by as the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world shoulder the heaviest burden of climate change.”

In an accompanying eight-page position paper on the Lima talks, the two organizations -- representing 180 Catholic relief and development organizations -- outlined their lens on climate change, one viewing it “from an integral human development perspective” where changes in climate limit such development.

“It is widely recognised that climate change can wipe out decades of development efforts. So it is not a question of choosing between slowing down climate change and fighting poverty and hunger. On the contrary, action to tackle climate change is the key to eradicating poverty, hunger and malnutrition,” the report said.

The Catholic groups urged for the adoption of a legally binding international agreement in Paris, in addition to:

  • the adoption of new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals;
  • industrialized nations honoring commitments to collectively provide $100 billion annually to the Green Climate Fund to assist mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries;
  • a halting of actions like deforestation and depletion of natural resources that alter the land;
  • and allowing women, children, the poor and other vulnerable groups to have a greater voice in public decision-making.

“The response to climate change must engage the whole of humanity: everyone has an indispensable role to play. In addition to scientific, technical and economic arguments, solutions must embrace ethical and moral concerns. An approach considering the impact of climate change on a wide range of human rights, including the universal right to adequate food, must be adopted,” they said.

“If we rise to this ecological challenge, the important political choices to be made in the coming months represent a real opportunity for global decision-makers to set the poor and care of creation at the heart of our globalised systems.”

While the negotiations continue in Lima, an international interfaith organization has called on people of faith worldwide to make their concerns about climate change heard.

The group Our Voices has organized #LightforLima, a series of individual and group vigils to pray for world leaders to develop an agreement. For the negotiation’s first week, Our Voices has encouraged people to hold at-home vigils and tweet about their experience with the hashtag #LightforLima. On Sunday, it has planned numerous public vigils across the globe, including in Washington D.C., outside the White House.

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

Editor's note: Want more stories from Eco Catholic? We can send you an email alert once a week with the latest. Just go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up. And check back at Eco Catholic for continuing coverage of the Lima climate talks. 


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