Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga Says Let’s Make 2016 a Year of Action on Climate Change

January 2, 2016

It has been heartening to see, at the end of 2015, the world come together to confront a challenge to all of humanity and to the natural world itself – the challenge of climate change.

The outcome of the climate negotiations in Paris surpassed expectations, committing 195 countries to hold the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels and to aspire to an ambitious limit of 1.5 degrees. The mention of 1.5 degrees restores the hope of survival to those people who are most vulnerable to climate change, such as those in the Pacific region and other coastal areas like Bangladesh. To avoid creating many more millions of victims to climate change, these vulnerable countries have also urged the world to reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050.

The Agreement furthermore promised financing to help poorer countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Most importantly, it requires regular review of the world’s collective progress towards meeting the goals set by the agreement. This process will make countries better placed to scale up their action in order to meet the urgency of the threat.

There was a great effort to secure this historic agreement by politicians, civil society and people of faith. Christian, Islamic, Sikh and other faith leaders signed theStatement of Faith and Spiritual Leaders ahead of the Paris talks, calling for global action on climate change. Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist spiritual leaders, among others, all lent their voices and prayers to the effort to forge a successful agreement in Paris. Interfaith solidarity has never been stronger.

But the success in Paris is not the end of the road, it is just the beginning. It is a turning point, and the hard work begins now. Systemic change is required to implement the pledges made in Paris.

The passage from one year to the next is a time for reflection, spiritual or otherwise. For all of us it is an opportunity to look back and ask if the human family and the planet are on a common pathway to success.

At this time, we should remember Pope Francis’s landmark Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ on ‘Care for Our Common Home’ and its importance in building awareness in the run-up to the Paris negotiations.

That encyclical, published in May, placed climate change squarely in the context of care for the world’s poor. It pointed to the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet”. It is the poor who suffer first and most severely from the ravages of a changing climate, such as extreme weather, floods, droughts, food insecurity and the spread of disease.

The encyclical also highlighted how climate change, social injustice and inequality are linked, where resources are exploited for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the common good.

It makes clear that it is the duty of all humanity – Christians alongside people of other faiths and no faith, including politicians, business people and people from all walks of life – to take action on climate change, as an expression of solidarity with the poor, the most vulnerable and the planet itself: love is at the heart of climate action.

In 2016, all people of good will should make climate and the protection of the poor a major topic for discussion amongst family and friends, as well as in their enterprises and political parties.

As the Encyclical made clear, acting on climate change is not an add-on option if we have time after doing other good deeds – it should be at the heart of the duty of care we all have for the poor amongst us.

What might that action look like in 2016? First, governments must be held to account, so that the promises they made in Paris are kept. They must put domestic policies in place urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, and adopt renewable energy.

This applies to industrialized countries, which made their wealth in the bygone fossil fuel era without paying the environmental costs of pollution and climate change. But it also applies to emerging countries, acting with the technological and financial support of richer countries. Together, they have a responsibility to protect the environment.

Secondly, we must all be mindful of our individual responsibilities in causing climate change and environmental damage. Lifestyles based upon the overconsumption of scarce resources, which deny others the right to safety, health and prosperity, are unjust.

Paris has sent a strong message of change and hope to humanity going into 2016: we must act now, for the livelihoods and dignity of present and future generations, as well as for creation, which has value in itself.