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Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1. Despite the failures of the annual conference, activists maintain hope that climate action will continue. CNS photo/Phil Noble, Reuters pool

COP26 failures no obstacle to real climate action

  • November 18, 2021

Disappointment and even anger at the end of the Glasgow climate summit is not the end of hope for Catholic climate action, said Laudato Si’ Movement - Canada co-ordinator Agnes Richard.

“Hearing the news of missed opportunities for solid targets to phase out not only coal, but also oil and gas, is hugely disappointing,” said Richard.

At the end of two weeks of declarations, negotiations and protests, the COP26 United Nations climate summit in Glasgow produced a set of vaguely worded commitments that would allow the globe to heat up 2.4 degrees. An effort to “consign coal to history” led by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to sign on Australia, China, India and the United States, who together represent 70 per cent of the world’s coal consumption. On the last day, India, with support from the United States and China, managed to wheedle down the final communique from an aspiration to “phase out coal” to a hoped-for “phase down” of coal.

The challenge for Catholics now is to make good on their hope for a better, cleaner and safer world — despite the failure of national leaders, said Richard.

“It is the language of love that will make a difference, and love in the public square is justice,” she said. “We have lots of work to do together.”

Richard and the Laudato Si’ Movement around the world are going to be urging Catholic institutions and dioceses to sign onto the Laudato Si’ Action Platform — a Vatican-sponsored effort to get everything from parishes to Catholic hospitals to line up their investments, buildings, employment practices and purchasing policies with the values and objectives of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical. In December, Laudato Si’ Movement - Canada will launch the Catholic Eco-Investment Accelerator Toolkit to help Catholic individuals and institutions divest from fossil fuels.

“When we ask our leaders for something, we must be prepared to say, ‘And this is what we’re going to do,’ ” Richard said. “We must live like we believe that God created the world and it is very good.”

Disappointment with the official, UN process doesn’t absolve Catholics from collective effort to do more for the planet, said Sr. Sue Wilson of the Federation Office for Systemic Justice of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

“Yes, COP26 was disappointing,” she said. “But the national commitments are getting us a little bit closer to the 1.5 (degree goal). The thing is that I think we use this moment now to press the government to make sure we do the heavy lifting early on in the process in terms of cutting greenhouse gases.”

Wilson is going to be watching the federal government closely as it prepares to introduce its promised Just Transition Act.

“All of civil society and faith groups (should) really push for setting annual carbon budgets that decline significantly early in the decade, not at the back end of the decade,” she said.

The biggest mistake would be to fall into passive acceptance of the idea that nothing can be done, said Wilson. “We saw with COVID that governments can step in and make a huge difference when they want to,” she said.

Despite commitments from Canada to cut methane by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030, and a promise of emissions caps on the oil and gas industry, and even despite a joint statement from the United States and China, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, promising co-operation, University of Toronto School of the Environment professor Simon Appolloni is not impressed.

“I would expect Christians to be enraged,” he said. “COP26 means that we are now moving even more precipitously toward more frequent, more severe, and longer lasting, dangerous weather events.”

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