California Governor Jerry Brown told Climate Summit of the Americas delegates July 8 that Pope Francis’ discussion of climate change as a moral issue is critical. Photo by Michael Swan

Laudato Si' front and centre at Americas' climate summit

  • July 8, 2015

TORONTO - California Governor Jerry Brown, in Toronto for the Climate Summit of the Americas, claims he is travelling with a copy of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ and “going through it carefully.”

“I like the language in it, which is not the language of markets,” Brown told a press conference July 8, the first day of the two-day meeting of government and business leaders from across the Western hemisphere. “But it’s the language of spirit, of metaphor, of poetry, of humanity.”

The Climate Summit of the Americas brings together provincial, state, city and indigenous First Nations to propose specific commitments to reduce greenhouse gases ahead of the UN-sponsored talks involving national governments in Paris this December. 

Brown, a one-time Jesuit novice, said the Pope's discussion of climate change as a moral issue is critical as the world tries to avoid catastrophic results. He has served as governor of 39 million Californians since 2011, after serving as governor from 1975 to 1983.

“What we’re dealing with here is not just some market transaction. We’re dealing with the future of humanity and how human beings live and treat one another, as well as other living things,” he said. “And the Pope has really captured that spirit in the encyclical."

Brown wasn’t the only leader at the summit to specifically reference the encyclical and Pope Francis. Chief Larry Sault of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation called Francis “one of my heroes” and a “climate change warrior.”

Sault addressed the summit delegates wearing a ceremonial head dress representing the indigenous nations of North and South America, standing between two large screens displaying a quote from Laudato Si’. 

“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed,” read the quote.

Acting on climate change is “a moral obligation,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“The people in this country believe we have a responsibility,” Wynne said.

Wynne did not hesitate to point out Canada’s meagre national efforts dealing with climate change.

“We have done either nothing or too little,” she said, pointing out that Canada is the world’s ninth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

“My country, Canada, was founded on the belief that we have more to gain together than we would apart,” Wynne told delegates as she boasted about Ontario’s plans to join with California and Quebec to form a cap-and-trade market for carbon emissions. Under the system industrial polluters pay for allowances to emit carbon and may sell unused allowances or permits to other industrial polluters.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the cap-and-trade initiative of Ontario and Quebec “the most important initiative in Canada.”

“Each time a new partner joins us it becomes more solid,” he said.

Quebec has operated a cap-and-trade system along with California as part of the Western Climate Initiative since 2014.

Couillard framed the system as an opportunity for social justice, pointing out how Quebec government revenues from the cap-and-trade market are directed into a green fund used to support vulnerable communities.

“Let us reject this false choice between growth and the environment,” said Couillard.

Wynne said she approaches climate change policies from the perspective of a grandmother.

“I can’t abide them (her grandchildren) growing up and asking why our generation failed them,” she said. “That’s an abdication of responsibility.”

In April the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences declared the Paris climate change summit “may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2 degrees C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4 degrees C or higher.”

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