Fr Hugh Pollock and Paul Kelly, of Lancaster Diocese, were part of the CAFOD delegation in the French capital last month. They reflect on the Paris Climate Change Summit, and talk about the next steps.
After the bustle and energy of Christmastide it is difficult to recognise a month already has passed since we were standing in Paris shoulder to shoulder with campaigners from across the world. But it is easy to recall the bustle and energy that was there too, as 25,000 negotiators from every country of the United Nations met on the outskirts of Paris for 2 weeks for the 21st annual “Conference of the Parties” – COP21. We had travelled from London as part of the 25-strong CAFOD delegation, joining with similar delegations from 17 other European countries for many of our planned workshops and meetings. So why did we go, and did the summit achieve what we hoped?
It is now well understood amongst all overseas development agencies, such as CAFOD, SCIAF and Trócaire, that world climate change is the single biggest threat to the development and dignity of the poorer people they work with. Recent changes in patterns of flooding and drought are heightening our awareness about likely changes in food and water security, and the probability of huge numbers of climate refugees in the future. World governments and the IPCC (their scientific advisers) recognise this too, and fully accept that this is a man-made problem requiring human intervention. COP21 sought agreement between all countries of the UN to limit climate change, something never before achieved.
CAFOD supporters thought it important to show solidarity with people living in poverty around the world by our presence together on the streets of Paris. And it’s important too that our political leaders know there is public concern and that they have our support about climate change, because tackling it involves us all. At the start of the summit almost a million people demonstrated in major cities all over the world calling for a strong climate agreement. We went to Paris to be part of that movement.
Meeting so many other campaigners and people from countries already threatened by the changing climate was both humbling and energising. The power of trading fairly, of resisting the wanton plunder of land, crops and minerals, really hits home when you meet the people affected by it. We will never forget the woman from Malawi who cried out with passion: “Food is not a product; it’s a basic right”. We are so steeped in the commercialisation of the Lord’s bounty that it becomes almost impossible to recognise what we are doing. Seeing it from the perspective of indigenous people was eye-opening. Where did the idea of owning the land, God’s gift, come from? Who does the coal, the gas, the minerals, the water belong to? Who gave the right to some of us to consume these gifts to the exclusion of others? Paris challenged our assumptions! No wonder Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si’ is calling each of us to “Ecological Conversion”. In Paris we came face to face with the “cry of the poor and the cry of the earth”.
In workshops and talks we heard many signs of hope. We reflected that many big changes haven’t needed the agreement and detailed planning of everyone beforehand. Look at the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism for example. We were shown where flats in run down parts of the city were refurbished to high standards of insulation, how the city’s mayor had removed the ban on gardening on public land to encourage communal planting and growing, and we heard about a huge supermarket being taken over by a consortium of local people to enable locally sourced food to be widely available. Every stake-holder gives three hours of their time each week to the store.
We visited the main conference venue and met CAFOD staff who were daily inside the conference as observers, meeting periodically with ministers and officials. They regularly briefed us about progress and explained the influence of NGOs on the negotiations. Apparently ministers sit with their phones on their desks all the time. We know our tweet to Amber Rudd, that we were just outside the conference hall waiting for a deal, was seen. Shortly afterwards we were in a café for lunch and on the TV screen saw the jubilant announcements that agreement had been reached.
Security in the city was tight following the atrocity just two weeks beforehand. Planned demonstrations were cancelled, but at the last minute the government permitted a demonstration on the final Saturday afternoon. We joined thousands underneath the Eiffel Tower calling for climate justice, now.
So does the agreement deliver justice?
In one sense the Agreement is disappointing and can only be seen as a beginning (albeit a beginning with great hope). The pledges made by countries before Paris are insufficient to keep the temperature rise below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures. There is no deadline for phasing out fossil fuels. The amount of financial help to developing countries is indeterminate.
However, in another sense, it is a monumental achievement: the first time ever that all 195 countries have agreed anything, with the strong aspiration to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Every country has pledged to take action. Speaking the next day, after the Angelus, Pope Francis called it “historic” and urged the international community to implement it swiftly. Undoubtedly the agreement sends a strong message to everyone from businesses and investors to governments to ordinary people that we’re moving away from fossil fuels. And it recognises that developed countries bear a lot of responsibility; they have agreed to financial support for countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. When you remember that until Paris the three biggest emitters of CO2 – China, the US and India – were not bound in any way to cut their carbon, then the size of the achievement becomes clear.
There is hope: the Agreement brings real transparency between all countries, rich and poor, about what they are doing. There is a legally binding commitment to make a stronger carbon-cutting plan every five years. We think these are the key levers we need to hold our governments to account. There is clearly much work to be done, with campaigners, activists and everyone is called (as Pope Francis insists) to help care for Creation, our common home.
We have already seen millions upon millions of people worldwide demanding action, with 40,000 CAFOD supporters – including people in the Diocese of Lancaster – adding their names to a petition inspired by Francis’ call to action. In fact, Judith, one of the people in the CAFOD delegation, went to the Elysée Palace to present the petition of 840,000 signatures to President Hollande. We believe our role now is to maintain this momentum.
We must support each other in the quest to live more simply and sustainably; we must regularly correspond and meet with our MPs to encourage them to support environmental change; we must help our spiritual leaders to guide us in ecological conversion.
As Mother Theresa said:
“I can do things you cannot,
you can do things I cannot.
Together we can do great things”.
There is indeed much to do. There is no greater issue of justice.
Find out more about what it means to campaign with CAFOD and how you can make a difference this year
Fr Hugh is chair of the Lancaster Faith and Justice Commission; his parish is in Kendal.
Paul is a member of the Lancaster Faith and Justice Commission and the National Justice and Peace Network environment groups.