Political leaders are unlikely to come up with effective responses to climate change because "the solutions are going to hurt" and be too unpopular with voters, said the head of Caritas Internationalis.
But aid organizations, like Caritas, can make a difference by promoting the ethical and moral strategies that need to be implemented in the developed world, said Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary-general of the umbrella organization of Catholic charities.
The Caritas leader spoke June 23 during a Global Humanitarian Forum dedicated to the issue of climate change and the role aid organizations must play. The forum, which was co-founded by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was held in Geneva June 23-24.
Catholic News Service received a copy of Knight's address from the Vatican-based Caritas Internationalis.
She said humanitarian organizations must play a larger role in the climate-change debate.
"We cannot rely solely on politicians to provide an answer to climate change because the solutions are going to hurt," she said.
The "unpalatable truth" is that people in the developed world, who have benefited from the growth and development that exacerbate climate change, will have to pay the steep price of any solution, she said.
"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 and now these loans will have to be repaid," she said.
To alleviate the problem, Knight said, people who are big consumers "will have to accept a reduced standard of living."
This does not mean sinking into poverty, but it may mean driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, flying abroad less, not eating out-of-season fruits and vegetables that must be transported from afar, "and maybe even paying a little more tax," she said.
Ideas like these will not be popular with voters and, therefore, it will be unlikely politicians embrace them, she said.
"If we are to change the world, we have to change human behavior" and humanitarian organizations will have to step up to that challenge, she said.
Caritas will have to expand what it is already doing in disaster preparation and mitigation in the developing world, she said.
Caritas members already have seen how effective their development programs are when they take into account the effect climate change may have in the future, she said.
For example, she said Caritas built schools and community centers in Bangladesh that also function as cyclone centers to provide a safe place for people when disaster strikes.
The effects of climate change worsen the dismal living conditions of the world's poor "and that is why it is vital for humanitarian organizations to relate climate change to the issue of poverty and to address the factors that make people vulnerable to climate change," she said.