The role of Catholics in the 1.5°C victory at COP21

February 16, 2016

13 Dec 2015 – The 1.5 degrees Celsius target in the Paris Agreement was a huge diplomatic victory. Since 2009, the official target of the negotiations has been to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees, backed by the big polluting countries. This weak target would mean a death sentence for a huge amount of people in the poorest countries (with less than a one degree increase we are seeing devastating effects: historic flooding in India, destructive typhoons in the Philippines, unprecedented heat waves across the Middle East, etc.).

The inclusion of the 1.5°C goal in the Paris Agreement was considered IMPOSSIBLE a few months ago. All experts agreed that the big polluting countries had defeated that option. But the intense lobbying and #1o5C campaign of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which is a negotiation block of 43 vulnerable countries, made it impossible for the big polluting countries to ignore. CVF, together with many civil society organizations, made a strong push to advance the 1.5°C cause at COP21.

We know that the Paris Agreement has some deep flaws, but this 1.5°C victory should be celebrated. As Bill McKibben said, “World leaders adopt 1.5°C goal — and we’re damn well going to hold them to it”. This ambitious goal gives us the tool to keep them accountable for keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Our movement, GCCM, played a key role in this campaign, as our Catholic Climate Petition was the only petition explicitly calling for the 1.5°C goal. Over 900,000 Catholics and over 300 Catholic organizations from all continents signed and supported this call for a high level of ambition, which we handed in to President Hollande and Christiana Figueres. The global coordinator of GCCM, Tomás Insua, led our advocacy for 1.5°C in Paris:

The Philippine delegation at COP21, which presided the CVF negotiation block, used our petition as a talking point during negotiations with Catholic-majority countries. As they put it:

   “The GCCM petition played a very critical role in the campaign to raise the ambition in Paris. From what was considered an impractical and non-feasible goal over a year ago, with the leadership of the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 43 vulnerable countries, in collaboration with citizen’s action groups such as the GCCM, the long term temperature goal of 1.5 degrees is now enshrined as the benchmark of global ambition. The petition is useful not only to get agreement in Paris. It is even more critical now to get all those who signed up support to pressure governments to implement the Paris agenda, to realise the objective of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees.”
   Renato Redentor Constantino, member of the Philippine delegation

This was complemented by the Holy See’s endorsement, when it announced that it supported the inclusion of the 1.5°C target in the final Paris climate agreement. “We support option two [in article 2 of the Paris agreement],” said Monsignor Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, referring to the section of the current negotiating text that calls to “rapidly scale up global efforts to limit temperature increase to below 1.5 °C.” This was a strong boost for the campaign, given the moral authority of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Turkson, who is the President of the Pontifical Council Justice and Peace, added his support by posing for a picture with the 1.5 hands sign:

Conclusion: we should be proud of the Catholic contribution to the 1.5°C cause, but, most importantly, we should now increase our mobilization efforts (together with the wider climate movement) to hold our governments accountable for their promises in the Paris Agreement. We are still too far from the bold climate policies needed to protect our planet and the poorest among us. But “we know that things can change”.