World Catholic leaders appeal for bold climate change agreement

Cardinal Oswald Gracias (centre) signs an appeal to the UN on climate change next to Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez (second from left) during a news conference at the Vatican on Monday.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias (centre) signs an appeal to the UN on climate change next to Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez (second from left) during a news conference at the Vatican on Monday. PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (REUTERS) - Roman Catholic leaders from around the world made an unprecedented joint appeal on Monday to a forthcoming UN conference on climate change to produce "a truly transformational" agreement to stem global warming.

The Catholic cardinals, patriarchs and bishops signed the appeal in the Vatican, saying climate change had to address social justice and that any agreement must be fair and ensure the poor and most vulnerable were not sold short.

Their 10-point document was based on Pope Francis's landmark encyclical last June, called "Laudato Si", which demanded urgent action to save the planet from environmental ruin.

It again put the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church in the front line of the debate over the causes of climate change, an active role that some Catholic conservatives, including U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, have criticised.

The document said "reliable scientific evidence" suggests global warming is the result of "unrestrained human activity", current models of progress and development, and excessive reliance on fossil fuels. Climate change sceptics argue that man's role in global warming has not been conclusively proved.

"The pope and Catholic Bishops from five continents, sensitive to the damage caused, appeal for a drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases," said the appeal to the conference, which meets in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Noting that Francis had addressed his encyclical on the environment "to every person living on this planet", the appeal said: "Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone".

Disputes over financing for poor nations have hampered negotiations among almost 200 countries, which are racing against the clock to seal an accord on combating global warming at the Paris summit.

Monday's document was signed by Church leaders from India, Europe, Colombia, Lebanon, Angola, the United States, Canada and Papua New Guinea.

The signatories represent all national or regional bishops'conferences, making it the first time in living memory that a Catholic appeal to world leaders was totally global, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India told a news conference.

"It is important that there be a variety of non-state activists in (the climate talks) and the Church can be a very important player," said Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The appeal called for the Paris conference to keep in mind not only the technical aspects of climate change, but"particularly the ethical and moral dimensions".

The leaders asked delegates to the conference, known as COP21, to "strongly limit" global temperature increase and set a goal for complete decarbonisation by mid-century and to "ensure inclusion and participation of the poorest, most vulnerable and impacted at all levels of the decision-making process".