The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our generation. We are reminded of its devastating impact around the world almost every day.
In East Africa, there is a drought so severe that millions of livestock have died and crops have been completely wiped out, leaving millions of people on the brink of starvation. Tragically, it looks as though the rainy season is failing for the fifth time in a row.
While the climate crisis means that some people have no water, elsewhere they are drowning. Just last year we saw tens of thousands of lives lost to deadly floods in Pakistan, and millions left homeless and with no means of earning a living.
The impact is also being felt at home: last summer, for the first time since records began, temperatures hit 40C in the UK.
With evidence such as this, it is impossible for world leaders to deny that our climate is in a state of emergency. Yet they continue to ignore its destructive impact on our shared planet. The cries of the suffering are falling on deaf ears – except in one quarter.
Pope Francis has not only heard the anguish of the earth and its inhabitants, but is speaking out for them when others stay silent. His consistent call on world leaders to act to stop the climate emergency has inspired millions, not just Catholics, but people of all faiths and none.
Throughout his ten years in the chair of St Peter, Pope Francis has been clear where the responsibility lies. It is the “ecological debt” accrued by rich nations, which has caused untold environmental pollution and damage to our common home.
Drawing on Saint Francis of Assisi in his revolutionary letter to the world, Laudato ’Si, Pope Francis says that our sister, Mother Earth, “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our own irresponsible use and abuse”.
For an organisation like CAFOD, it’s impossible to understate the transformative influence the Pope’s encyclical has had on us, on the people we work with around the world, and for Catholics here at home.
His message that “our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God” has been at the heart of CAFOD’s mission since the encyclical was released.
Each day, we work to bring his message alive. We are supporting families with the skills and tools they’ve asked for to fight the climate crisis. In Bangladesh, for example, cyclone after cyclone has destroyed crops in villages. Even if farmers escape the storms, they face sea water flooding.
We are supporting 14-year-old Dristy and her mother, Rupali, with building raised seed beds to protect against flooding, planting palm trees to shield their crops from cyclones, and using discarded household items to grow saplings. Such simple techniques increase their chances of overcoming the next disaster caused by climate change, keeping them self-reliant and boosting the resilience of their village.
While we work to support those suffering from the impact of the climate crisis, we are sustained by the knowledge that we are not alone in this fight. Pope Francis is there with us, standing in solidarity with those who need him most.
Thanks to his tireless advocacy, he has ensured that the issue of what is going wrong in our common home is never too far from our minds – and, crucially, from the minds of world leaders.
Each year, for example, at the annual international COP meeting, held under United Nations auspices to discuss climate change, Pope Francis warns rich nations that time is running out to address the effects of global warming.
He has also spoken directly to oil companies, making clear that if the world does not switch to clean energy, climate change risks destroying humanity.
These calls for action, along with his messages of hope, have constantly encouraged CAFOD campaigners. We and our supporters have been emboldened to respond to the “chorus of anguish” from our brothers and sisters suffering the impact of climate change, and to call out governments around the world for their inaction.
So, as we celebrate the Pope’s ten-year anniversary, I – and all those at CAFOD – will be praying that world leaders finally listen to his call. We join him in demanding that they act now to stop the threat to humanity caused by climate change.
The fight to save our common home could not have a more inspiring advocate.
Christine Allen is the Director of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.