The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Global common good, not national interest required on climate change

Story by: Julianne Hickey (Director of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand)

Pope Francis’ long-awaited letter on the environment – or ‘the care of our common home’ – has given our government an easy out on the much-criticised and devalued Emissions Trading Scheme – just do away with it. 

Pope Francis' encyclical (letter) Laudato Si’, released last Thursday, criticises trading in “carbon credits” as potentially leading to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce polluting gases.

“… in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require,” he says.

Instead, it may simply permit the continued “excessive consumption” by some countries and sectors that Pope Francis targets as the primary contributor to global warming, environmental degradation and inequality. He describes an “ecological debt” between the richer and poorer nations of the earth, due in part to “the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.”

Pope Francis timed his letter to influence climate change negotiations in Paris in December, as well as other talks on development finance and the Sustainable Development Goals. His challenge to politicians such as our Climate Issues Minister Tim Groser is to exercise courage and “true statecraft” focused on the long-term common good.

“International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions being taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good,” says Pope Francis.

Recent government consultation on our climate change target seemed narrowly focussed on New Zealand domestic issues and concerns about financial costs to households. Nothing was said about the cost in human lives, or to a sustainable earth and ecosystems for future generations. By contrast, Pope Francis pulls no punches in naming climate change as one of today’s principal challenges.

"If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

He is particularly concerned about the impact on the poor, who may “have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters.” And he is tough on countries and people with more resources and economic or political power who are “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms.”

Various recent World Summits on the environment have failed “due to lack of political will”, while technical fixes require a moral compass.

“Any technical solution ... will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.”

Pope Francis, in addressing his letter to every person on the planet, highlights the moral choices each of us makes, and the responsibility of “assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us”. He calls for radical change to move away from fossil fuels to develop widely accessible sources of renewable energy. And he asks us to reorganise our economies to ensure the goods of the earth are fairly shared, to protect both vulnerable ecosystems and vulnerable peoples.

Realistically, he is mindful of the difficulties and challenges faced by politicians: “To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics. But if they are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility.”

For the sake of the planet, the poor of today, and future generations we need our political leaders to secure a robust global climate agreement in Paris. We call on them to exercise true courage, selflessness and a genuine solidarity with humanity, in order to achieve the long-term common good.

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