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Confronting climate change is our moral obligation

We are bishops from the global South and North, united by faith and humanity. As pastors, we seek to comfort the young and the old, the healthy and the infirm.

We try to ensure that the powerless are heard and the powerful are engaged. In accordance with these values, we joined hands with Pope Francis to call upon our leaders to protect all of creation from ecological calamity as they prepared to sign the Paris climate change accord April 22 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

{mosads}In his encyclical Laudato Sí, Pope Francis discussed the grave implications of climate change and called on all people, not just Catholics, to protect the earth—the common inheritance of all. The Pope’s message was heard clearly last December in Paris, where the world’s countries reached an historic agreement to reduce carbon pollution and be held accountable for their actions to do so. Now, as world leaders prepare to formally sign the agreement and bring it into force, we wish to elevate the Pope’s message of our shared moral obligation to protect creation for generations to come.

{mosads}Climate change threatens all life—and the life cycle of the earth itself. Climate change attacks the human dignity of those most affected, with the least fortunate bearing a disproportionate burden from its impacts. What the scientific consensus tells us, and what real observations and experiences around the world have shown us, is that humanity’s current reliance on fossil fuels is altering the atmosphere. Warmer oceans and higher temperatures are already being connected with increased sea levels, storm surges, rainfall intensities and droughts, as well as disruptions in growing seasons and migratory patterns.

In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis highlighted the urgency of our task: “Technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” We have a moral obligation to reduce carbon pollution, to protect people from climate impacts and to safeguard human health.

Heeding Pope Francis’ call—in response to the warnings of major scientific bodies—we encourage all people, and especially Catholic leaders, to continue to foster dialogue in local communities and among policymakers to find ways to address today’s social and ecological crises. Many Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and other organizations are already reducing carbon pollution with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Catholic citizens and organizations that demand bold, science-based climate policies from elected officials can bring change and results to their communities.

Those of us living in the industrialized nations in the global North know that we are disproportionately responsible for carbon pollution. Those of us living in developing nations in the global South know that we are disproportionately impacted by climate change. In solidarity, then, we must all examine our lifestyles with sobriety and support public policies that place the common good of everyone over the narrow self-interests of the few.

The international negotiations in Paris give us reason to be optimistic. U.S. leadership on climate change is encouraging other nations to do likewise, and repay what Pope Francis calls an “ecological debt” to those historically least responsible for climate change. Policies like the Clean Power Plan will drive down carbon pollution, while the global Green Climate Fund will help developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change and adopt clean energy technologies. World leaders must not back down from their commitments, and should continue to augment efforts to reduce the dangerous pollution that causes climate change.

As bishops from different countries, we find hope in the many Catholic organizations that are helping spread Pope Francis’s call to care for our common home.  With the help of countless other faith-based organizations and people of goodwill, moral appeals can join with the economic, political, and cultural arguments for addressing climate change. Together, we must avert the catastrophic consequences of indifference and inaction, and safeguard creation for all of humanity.

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Most Reverend Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila; Chairman of the Committee on the Laity, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.


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