The decision by the US President to leave the Paris climate agreement made on Thursday evening "is deeply troubling" and will "harm the people of the United States and the world", the US Catholic bishops have said in a strongly worded statement.
There has been global condemnation of President Donald Trump's announcement to take the world's largest polluter in historical terms out of the 2015 accord. Speaking from the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, the US president said that he was leaving an accord that "hamstrings the United States" but is prepared to "begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accords or a really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States".
However, the leaders of the major Western countries were quick to condemn Trump for his decision. In a joint statement with Italy and Germany, the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, dismissed the idea of renegotiating the deal and said that Trump should not "be mistaken on climate; there is no plan B because there is no planet B". UK Prime Minister Theresa May also released an official statement condemning the decision.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, through his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, called it a "major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security" while President Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, which will be hosting the next UN climate talks in November, said that the decision was "deeply disappointing" news for the "citizens of vulnerable nations throughout the world" but that reversing climate change was "a struggle that is far from over".
Fiji is among one of the worst affected countries in the world to any change in the climate - the Pacific region as a whole is predicted to have to move 20 per cent of its population (1.7 million people) to safety because of the affects of climate change. The talks in November for a new global agreement are slated to focus on prioritising finance for climate adaptation through the private sector.
"The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values," Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the chairman of the US bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace said in a statement released shortly after the president announced the withdrawal.
"President Trump's decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities," the bishop added. "The impacts of climate change are already being experienced in sea-level rise, glacial melts, intensified storms, and more frequent droughts. I can only hope that the president will propose concrete ways to address global climate change and promote environmental stewardship."
Trump said the climate accord "is less about the climate and more about other countries obtaining a financial advantage over the United States".
He said he wants to create a "level playing field" and establish the "highest standard of living, highest standard of environmental protection". The United States now joins countries like Syria and Nicaragua in not being part of the accord. Cantu said that although the Paris agreement is not the only possible mechanism for addressing global carbon mitigation, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.
He said the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis "and the entire Catholic Church have consistently upheld the Paris agreement as an important international mechanism to promote environmental stewardship and encourage climate change mitigation".
Before Trump made his announcement, Cantu issued a statement saying the United States had an obligation to honour the Paris agreement to protect "our people and our planet" and "mitigate the worst impacts of climate change". He urged Trump to honour the accord.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released the earlier statement along with copies of letters sent weeks earlier to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Advisor H R McMaster. The letters were signed by Cantu; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Sean L Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the US bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
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"We write about our shared obligation to care for the environment. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood the environment to be a gift from God," said the letters urging the Trump administration officials in their respective capacities to reaffirm the US commitment to the Paris accord.
"Pope Francis called on the world's leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home... We have one common home, and we must protect it," they said.
In both statements Cantu noted that the US bishops have for years "voiced support for prudent action and dialogue on climate change", as far back as their 2001 statement on global climate change and again in 2015 in a letter to Congress. They have, he said, "reiterated their support on several occasions".
"Pope Francis and the Holy See have also consistently voiced support for the Paris agreement," Cantu said. In his earlier statement, Cantu said the pope's 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home" was timed "to urge the nations of the world to work together in Paris for an agreement that protects our people and our planet".
The Paris accord has been ratified by 134 of the 197 countries that approved it in December 2015 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. President Barack Obama ratified on its own, bypassing the US Senate. The agreement went into force in October after enough countries ratified it.
A day before Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of the US from the climate accord, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for the Integral Development of People, told reporters in Washington that "the decision to possibly pull out for us is something we hoped would not have happened".
"Certain issues should be taken out of the political discussion and not be politicised. ... The truth is, climate is a global public good and not limited to any country, not limited to any nation," the cardinal said.
"The Vatican would always respect the decision of a sovereign state," added Turkson, who was in Washington for a conference at Georgetown University. "We will continue to still talk about climate change and all of that, and hope that some change can occur midstream."
Also commenting ahead of Trump's decision was Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who said if the president decided to withdraw the United States, "it will be a disaster for everyone".
The bishop and the academies are at the forefront of promoting scientific studies on climate change and implementation of the recommendations in Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'" on care for the environment. The pope gave Trump a copy of the document when they met last month at the Vatican.
In an interview yesterday with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Bishop Sanchez said he did not think Trump and Pope Francis discussed climate change in any depth when they met, however climate change was a significant part of the discussions the president and top staff members had with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state.
"In that sense, if he really does what the leaks suggest, for us it will be a huge slap in the face," the bishop said.
Obama deserves some of the blame, the bishop said, because "he took decisions on climate only through presidential orders, leaving open the possibility that his successor would change everything. That's the problem. Today, in just one day, Trump could change all the cards on the table to the disadvantage of many and to the advantage of the oil lobby".
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Tillerson participated in Trump's meeting with Cardinal Parolin and told reporters that while climate change did not come up in Trump's meeting with the pope, they had "a good exchange on the climate change issue" with the cardinal.
"The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it's an important issue," Tillerson said shortly after the meeting. "I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange on the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy."
Asked how Trump responded to Parolin's encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: "The president indicated we're still thinking about that, that he hasn't made a final decision.
"He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It's an opportunity to hear from people. We're developing our own recommendation on that. So it'll be something that will probably be decided after we get home."
Dennis Sadowski in Washington and Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story for Catholic News Service
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