The Role of Believers at Paris Climate Change Summit

American street artist Shepard Fairey, aka Obey, 's latest piece 'Earth Crisis', a giant sphere themed on environment hangs b
American street artist Shepard Fairey, aka Obey, 's latest piece 'Earth Crisis', a giant sphere themed on environment hangs between the first and second floor of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Obey's art piece which weighs 2,3 tons will be displayed until Nov. 26 as Paris will be hosting the climate change conference from Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Binta Epelly)

The challenge posed by the climate change conference about to begin in Paris could not be more urgent. The decisions by the delegates will directly affect the health of the global environment and its seven billion inhabitants for decades and perhaps centuries. Believers in religious teaching who heed the lessons of science will play a critical role, by showing their solidarity with the poor and their unwavering commitment to protect God's gift to humanity, the environment.

Pope Francis, in his landmark encyclical letter on the environment published in June titled, Laudato Si', On Our Common Home, writes:

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail" (Rom 8:22) (§2). Indeed, our common home is in deep trouble and "beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (§21).

In all religions the environment -- the relationship existing between nature and society -- is recognized. This is part of what the pope calls an "integral ecology" that recognizes an interconnectedness between the environment and human beings and is inseparable from the common good. What happens to the environment impacts human beings. When we violate that bond, people are the first victims, and overwhelmingly the poorest of the poor.

When church pastors make judgments about climate change, we are not claiming to have scientific expertise in this area. Our views emanate from an existential, pastoral perspective. In the Philippines, we have been getting typhoons with intensities that we have not seen before. We cannot explain them scientifically, but we live through all of them. We have seen the devastating effects on the lives of the poor, our people.

This past summer, in what should have been our rainy season, the Philippines experienced severe drought, making it impossible for mostly poor farmers to grow crops. When the fall began we endured a typhoon that destroyed the rice fields of central and northern Luzon, wiping out potential earnings of poor farmers for the year. We are also now marking the second anniversary of super typhoon Haiyan. Mourning the loss of loved ones and rebuilding their communities is far from complete.

In the Philippines, and in developing countries around the globe, we witness, accompany and welcome refugees driven away from their communities not by war, conflict or lack of employment, but because of climate catastrophes. It is the poor, always the poor, who are most affected by deadly climate change.

At the same time, while the pope recognizes that the complex ecological crisis has many causes, he correctly relies on a very solid scientific consensus for the existence of global warming and scientific studies that indicate that the release of greenhouse gases has been mainly by human activity.

Faith and reason come together, and faith listens to reason. They are two gifts from the same God. Scientific studies help the church in her discernment. The pope has said that the best scientific studies can lead us to the voice of God, the voice of the Earth and the voice of the poor. The scientific studies on climate change are unequivocally telling us that the right to the environment is being violated, people are suffering greatly, and that it is time for an ecological conversion.

The pope points out that much progress has been made by many individuals and organizations in civil society to address climate change. One such organization is the Vatican-based Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of over 160 humanitarian and development agencies worldwide. The confederation helps communities deal with climate emergencies, adapt to climate change and pushes for the needs of the poor to be at the center of international decisions on climate and other development issues.

The time is now to build new models of development that are climate compatible and lift people out of poverty. But will the Paris conference mobilize the political will necessary to create a just, prophetic and legally-binding climate agreement? We believe it will be possible leaders put the environment, human rights and human dignity at the heart of their decisions.

At Caritas, we are calling for a meaningful and effective agreement which will include a limit on the global temperature rise, the replacement of fossil fuels with safe renewable energy, the protection of human rights and the inclusion of the poor at the grassroots in the decision-making process. The agreement needs to have a mechanism for reviewing and monitoring policies, as well as the ability to increase the level of ambition, rather than locking in low levels of ambition for decades to come.

Guaranteeing financing for tackling climate change is fundamental for progress to be made. There are wealthy and powerful financial and technological interests working to influence the summit and governments all over the world. Changing the deadly path we are on will take years and require a steely steadfastness. It will take continued grassroots efforts to keep pressure on delegates and politicians. With Pope Francis, we believe that if delegates are courageous, they will leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility (§181).

We invite politicians and policy-makers, business people, scientists, artists and educators, parents and children, friends, colleagues and families, to work together for the common good, respecting the dignity of each person, and especially of the poorest and most vulnerable people. We must develop a consistent ethic of solidarity with the environment and with each other.

God's love is the fundamental moving force in all created things. If we let our lives be inspired by it, our lives will be a manifestation of that love which transforms "global warming" into a worldwide warming of our hearts to the poor.


Luis Antonio Tagle is the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Philippines, and President of Caritas Internationalis. In July 2015, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tagle to serve as a member of the Pontifical "Cor Unum", a body that manages the church's worldwide charitable activities.

Tom Gallagher is a lawyer, who has worked on the cause of sainthood of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and helped create and administer the not-for-profit Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center on behalf of the Missionaries of Charity, and he is also a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter.