“The world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”
These words of Pope Francis in Laudate Deum, his Apostolic Exhortation this month, clearly express his anguish at our failure to act upon the message of his encyclical of eight years ago, Laudato Si’, with its powerful call to heed “The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor”.
Laudate Deum (Praise God) uses the term “climate crisis” for the first time. This is also the first time the Pope has mentioned the UN’s international climate conferences (COP). His 2015 encyclical was widely acknowledged to have influenced the COP21 summit in Paris that year, and the agreement reached there brought an air of hope.
Eight years later, however, it is clear that not enough is being done to stop the planet overheating. While Laudate Deum acknowledges some progress, the target of holding average global temperatures to under 2C above preindustrial levels, and curbing that further, to 1.5C, is slipping away. Even the UK’s ex-President of COP26 held in Glasgow, Sir Alok Sharma talked about 1.5degrees being “on life support”.
World leaders are failing to take long-term and decisive action on climate change. In some cases – including our own Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who has delayed measures to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – we are going backwards. Who pays the price of this?
Laudate Deum deals robustly with those seeking to deny that there is a crisis. Claims that periods of extreme cold disprove global warming are confusing weather forecasts with well-founded, long-term scientific projections. Likewise the argument that getting to net zero is too expensive, and might cause unemployment. Pope Francis reminds us that doing nothing will cost jobs, while “the transition to renewable forms of energy, properly managed, as well as efforts to adapt to the damage caused by climate change, are capable of generating countless jobs in different sectors”.
The climate crisis is not just something in the future. As the Church’s development agency, we see that it is the poorest communities, those who are least responsible for climate change, who suffer the most from it. In Laudate Deum, Pope Francis has just reiterated that message, which we see constantly where Cafod supports partners. The recent flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh, for example, destroyed the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of the people least able to cope, and our partners have their work cut out to support them. A drought that has ravaged across East Africa has killed millions of livestock and plunged millions of people into starvation.
What can we do? Personal actions do matter of course. We must all reduce waste, travel and seek to live simply. But Laudate Deum emphasises that “the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level”.
We have to find our voice. Especially here in the UK in this run up to an election. On the national level, you can sign Cafod’s petition, urging the Prime Minister not to backtrack on climate action. And internationally, we can put pressure on leaders to ensure that the COP28 summit in Dubai, starting at the end of November, makes real commitments to fight the climate crisis. As Pope Francis says, “We must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes.”
Francis reminds us that human beings and the earth are not replaceable commodities. We are interdependent and connected. Yet we continue to put greed over and above our love for each other, for other species, for our planet. It is not enough to make promises; we must see concrete actions that align with the urgency of the crisis we face. We do this because we are people of hope.
“To say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal,” Laudate Deum concludes, “for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.”