Monday, 7th December 2015
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE POPE
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Following the terrorism against humanity, Paris is now hosting the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main objective is to get a legally binding universal agreement for all nations, on climate: a measure in the name of humanity.
After past failures and procrastinations, world leaders will be trying to agree on a new model of growth that is safe, durable and beneficial to all. This is not only possible, but now necessary and urgent. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development and president-designate of COP21, Mr Laurent Fabius, said that the whole planet is expecting such a global agreement; the citizens of the world know that later will be too late.
Climate change is so devastating that even Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ dwelt on this matter. Prof Schellnhuber expanded on climate change during the launch of Laudato Si’. Prof Schellnhuber is the founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, a German government-funded research institute addressing crucial scientific question in the field of global change, climate impacts and sustainable development.
Prof. Schellnhuber spoke on the urgency of taking immediate actions on the solid scientific evidence of global warming driven by greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Failure to strongly reduce such emissions will expose the present world populations and their future generations to intolerable risks. He added that the Encyclical Laudato Si’ mirrors these scientific findings, endorsed by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
Laudato Si’ looks at the large scale production of fossil fuel energy towards human development, but benefitting a minority. Such a resource is privately owned by large corporations or controlled by governments. Access largely depends on the financial resources of the individuals, generating extreme wealth as compared to the poor and the poorest of the poor. This is seen to be a violence of development which predetermines the lives of the latter thus leading to disparities and to wasteful over-usage of resources, to the extent of exploitation of the carbon history of humankind.
This development by the few affects everyone, with the greatest consequences borne by the poor, as compared to the consumption by the rich who are contributing to the deeply wounding of the planet. And the devastation of this is borne by the weakest in society. This is why Laudato Si’ emphasises that it is indispensable to confront climate change and poverty simultaneously. Not only so, but climate impacts will disproportionately affect many of the developing countries.
Development as it is being carried out is like walking the plank. Not only will it not bring prosperity for all, but it will bring disaster for most of humanity. Science teaches us that climate is a fragile and delicate web of interwoven components. It embraces the atmosphere, the oceans, the frozen water part of the Earth system, the soils and the ecosystems. These interact through complex physical, chemical, geological and biological processes. Just the pull or breaking of one single thread of this web can possibly lead to permanent damage of the whole web.
Development as it is being carried out
is like walking the plank.
Such a delicate natural web started to be tampered with at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, by a small ‘privileged group’. This has led to the present crisis of climate change.
A pro-business vision, bereft of any social and ecological considerations, has already led to expansion of sea water as it warms, and also through the melting glaciers and ice caps, leading to sea-level rise. These can lead to about 1.2 meters of sea-level rise, all due to human interference through short-sited egoistic development.
Excess of carbon dioxide emissions, which is contributing to climate change can cause sudden, irreversible and large-scale disruption in the natural web interwoven by physical and ecological systems. Business as usual will lead greenhouse gas emission to an increase in temperature by 4°C.
Prof. Schellnhuber while addressing the congregation on the launching of the encyclical Laudato Si’ compared climate change to a human being having a body temperature of 37°C. A 2°C rise in temperature will lead to fever. A 5°C rise will result in a dead body through heat and the collapse of vital organs of the body. Our planet is the body which embraces humanity.
What will be the outcome of the Paris Summit? Will the pro-business vision rule the day? Will there be dragging of feet by those who put unlimited development before the survival of humanity? Will business acumen look at such a global problem through a Volkswagen approach? Will the past sceptics and opponents of such measures join the chorus for a binding agreement? Will man endorse the fact that he is his worst enemy?
Pope Francis emphasises that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”. Prof. Schellnhuber adds that now is the time to form alliances, find common ground and act together as humankind – but also to take on individual responsibility and change what is in our power to change.” Our planet does not need anybody to save it. It can take care of itself. It is humanity which needs to save itself.
Sir David Attenborough sums it all up when he said that “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad, or an economist.”