04 November 2022, The Tablet

A cardinal explains the 'tragic' example of 'structural sin' that is climate change

by Fridolin Ambongo Besungu

As delegates arrive in Africa for COP27, Cardinal Ambongo explains the 'moral outrage' of the climate crisis

A cardinal explains the 'tragic' example of 'structural sin' that is climate change

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, warns that the solutions to this crisis must not continue the business-as-usual approach.

The climate crisis is a lived reality for people across Africa. Recent summer heatwaves in the north of the continent have caused massive social and economic losses and damages, breaking temperature records and severely disrupting agri-food systems in an already hungry region. Storms and cyclones early in the year caused devastation in Southern Africa and in Madagascar, resulting in the destruction of homes and the loss of lives. Eastern Africa is facing the worst food crisis in a generation, precipitated by extreme drought. In West Africa, cities are flooded, communities in the creeks are submerged, conflicts which have simmered for years are now intensifying due to climate-induced displacement. Wherever you look on this continent, a continent already struggling due to an unjust global economic system, you see climate change holding back the potential for development. 

In just a few days’ time, the world will come to Africa for the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – otherwise known as COP27. All people of God, wherever they are in the world, must surely agree that this conference must deliver for Africa.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the solutions to this complex situation. We can, however, be certain of a few things. For example, we know that the Global North is largely responsible for the climate crisis and must contribute their fair share to address it. This means leading the way in emissions reductions, providing funding for climate adaptation, loss and damage, and supporting countries in the Global South to achieve just levels of development within planetary boundaries. We know that the most promising solutions will reflect key principles of Catholic Social Teaching, such as the common good, social justice between generations, care for our common home and the preferential option for the poor. The solutions to this crisis must not continue the business-as-usual approach that is responsible for creating the problem in the first place and will only enrich wealthy nations and individuals at the expense of the world’s poor.

And yet, in the face of these certainties, it can still be challenging to understand the precise routes to change. In the latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis proposed dialogue and encounter as a means of building a more just world (n°199,203). This was the inspiration for the African Climate Dialogues – a series of conversations hosted by Catholic Church actors and civil society in Africa to discuss, learn from each other and identify key policy priorities ahead of COP27 in Egypt. These dialogues included community and civil society representatives with lived experiences of climate change, researchers and professional advocates with policy expertise, officials from all levels of government, and leaders in the Catholic Church who could frame the pressing ethical questions raised by climate change in terms of the action of God and the demands of justice.

On 17 October, I was proud to launch a communiqué from the African Climate Dialogues process, alongside leaders from youth movements, NGOs and Governments representing Africa at COP27. This document serves as a road-map for action at COP27 on the key topics of appropriate solutions, climate finance, migration and displacement, food systems and loss and damage. It sets out demands for the conference, informed by practitioners, communities and experts in light of theological reflection on the sacred scriptures. I will travel to Sharm-el-Sheikh in November to bring these cries for action to the negotiating table, and to show that the Church in Africa is standing up for communities already suffering from climate change in my continent.

Climate change is a moral outrage. It is a tragic and striking example of structural sin (St John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, n°36), facilitated by callous indifference and selfish greed. The climate crisis is leading to the destruction of our planet, the devastation of the lives of the poor, and the detriment of future generations. We church leaders and civil society organisations in Africa and beyond demand world leaders, business leaders and decision makers to pay heed to this important communique, and in so doing, heed  the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu is Archbishop of Kinshasa, Vice-President of SECAM and President of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (SECAM). More information about the African Climate Dialogues and a copy of the communiqué can be accessed here

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