World Environment Day: How Catholics can take action

June 4, 2021

 

By Svitlana Romanko
Zero Fossil Fuels Campaign Manager
Global Catholic Climate Movement

World Environment Day every 5 June gives us time to remind ourselves of the importance of nature for our existence. But have we forgotten to remember what Earth is providing us with every day?

As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’, “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Biodiversity crisis is also a crisis of justice. 

Another crisis, that biodiversity is connected with, is the climate crisis that sharpens social, economic, and climate injustice. They both are fueled by extensive use of fossil fuels and overconsumption.

Biodiversity has been typically associated with more permanent ecological changes in ecosystems, landscapes, and the global biosphere, and only nowadays it has become strongly associated with a loss.

One million species are under threat of extinction, and populations of monitored animals have declined 68 percent since 1970. Ecological disasters significantly increased in recent years as human activity, mining, exploration, transportation, and fossil fuels caused a disruptive change in ecosystems and destroyed nature in a variety of ways. 

In every region of the planet we hear the cry of the Earth, through the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, the Mozambique LNG Project, the story of blood coal in one of the world’s largest coal mines in Latin America.

We also hear creation’s cry in the palm oil/biofuel supportive state policy in Indonesia that will worsen deforestation, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to a loss of biodiversity. 

Since fossil fuels’ very beginning at the end of the 17th century, their production has led to new colonial approaches in developing countries, deepening injustice for local communities, their health, and their livelihoods.

The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline is projected to lead to the loss of an estimated 14,000 households across Uganda and Tanzania, and hundreds of families will need to be resettled while thousands more will be affected and lose their livelihoods.

We witness many of these stories and I believe we can do something about it. As Catholics committed to climate justice, we can help local communities and Indigenous People protect their lands, livelihoods, and biodiversity. We must.

The decade of 2021-2030 has been officially announced by the UN as a decade of biodiversity protection and restoration. As the UN report states, nature’s financial value must be considered to avoid “irreversible” degradation to biodiversity and land. If the world is to meet the climate change, biodiversity, and land degradation targets, it needs to close a USD 4.1 trillion financing gap in nature by 2050.

More than half of the global GDP relies on high-functioning biodiversity but only about 20 percent of countries are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing due to the destruction of the natural world, according to an analysis by the insurance firm Swiss Re last year

But thinking in terms of GDP is only a part of the effort. Another one is diverting financial flows from fossil fuels.

Investing just 0.1 percent of global GDP every year in restorative agriculture, forests, pollution management, and protected areas to close a $4.1 trillion financial gap by 2050 could avoid the breakdown of natural ecosystem “services,” such as clean water, food, and flood protection, the report stated. 

Where to get this money? For governments and banks, the answer would be to stop subsidizing, investing and providing loans for the fossil fuel industry. For individuals and institutions, there are multiple options to consider.  

As “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review” report states, we are all asset managers. Individuals, businesses, governments, and international organizations all manage assets through our spending and investment decisions. Collectively, however, we have failed to manage our global portfolio of assets sustainably.

No investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants should be made from now, the IEA report on Net Zero by 2050 states. The time is now to end fossil fuels, invest into the natural capital and restore the biodiversity that has been ruthlessly exploited for years.

Some of us have already been actively divesting from fossil fuels as 253 Catholic institutions have to date.

Some of us can do this now, symbolically and morally, by signing the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition for biodiversity protection.

Divesting our voices and our social license from fossil fuels is as important as putting our money where our mouth is.