Pope Benedict Calls for “Credible” Action at Durban Talks to Address “Disturbing” Climate Change

by Catherine Woodiwiss

Just before Monday’s opening of the 17th UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Pope Benedict XVI issued a plea for solidarity among international leaders to reach a responsible deal in Durban and account for the needs of the poorest communities and future generations.  From the Vatican, Pope Benedict – dubbed the “Green Pope” for his commitment to environmental concerns – urged conference delegates to “reach agreement on a responsible, credible response” to the “complex” and “disturbing” effects of climate change.

His charge came the same day as a letter published by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, which affirmed the “general consensus that human activities make [climate change] happen much faster” and underscored the threat of climate change to “our beloved world and the entire creation that God has given us.” This letter launched the Bishops’ appeal to the government of South Africa to support resolutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, require countries with higher levels of emissions to fund programs aimed at helping developing countries to lower their emissions, and commit to the production of renewable energy.

Faith groups from around the world have registered their concerns over the disastrous effects of climate change and the rising risk to the world’s most vulnerable people. The African group “We Have Faith – Act Now for Climate Justice” organized a highly-publicized pre-summit rally in Durban on Sunday, with religious leaders, musical guests, and celebrities in attendance. Nearly 2,000 rally attendees presented a global petition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who accepted the document on behalf of the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) with tears in her eyes. “We have heard your voice and your prayers,” Figueres said of the petition, which calls for “neighbours to treat the earth with respect, resist disorder, (and) live in peace with each other including embracing a legally binding climate change treaty.”

More than 40,948 people signed the “We Have Faith” petition – almost four times the number of registered conference attendees. And faith groups are planning a Global Day of Action march and a multi-faith prayer service for early December, to keep the religious pressure on global leaders to deliver a vision and strategy for dealing with climate change.

At Sunday’s rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu likened climate change to the battle against apartheid. “Now we are facing another huge, huge enemy, and no one nation can face this particular enemy on its own,” he said. Like apartheid, he added, climate change “cannot be defeated in isolation.”

Other religious leaders sent their support from abroad. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams shared a video of support, saying, “It’s no time for despair – but it’s certainly no time for complacency either. The moral crisis is as real as ever. And we need as never before real moral leadership from the international community. We need to know that governments will fulfill the pledges that have been given by the richer countries, to provide $100bn by 2020.”

American ecumenical organizations including Church World Service and the National Council of Churches of Christ have sent letters to President Obama, urging him to do all he can towards commiting to a concrete source of climate finance, supporting progress on a second Kyoto Protocol, and reaching “a fair, ambitious and binding agreement that sets forth a truly moral response to climate change.”  The NCC is also sending Methodist, Epsicopal, and Presbyterian representatives to participate in the faith actions in Durban.

Though not present at this year’s summit, Pope Benedict has regularly expressed his concern for environmental stewardship and responsible leadership on climate change. His charge on Sunday, and the ongoing interfaith engagement in Durban, further indicates a shift across religious traditions towards  greater concern—and action—in order to protect God’s creation.

— Catherine Woodiwiss is a Special Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress

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5 Responses to Pope Benedict Calls for “Credible” Action at Durban Talks to Address “Disturbing” Climate Change

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This is really heartening, and an interesting reversal of history. During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholics were the ones defending ritual and superstition. Now, our own Protestant Religious Right appears to be altogether oblivious to science.

    Benedict’s reaching out to other faiths is especially encouraging. Given the political corruption in countries such as the US and Canada, religious organizations could become keys to a breakthrough. Even fundamentalists go outside and see what’s going on, and they can eventually be won over as well.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    In Summary

    So …

    THE POPE wants the world’s leaders to responsibly and credibly face and address climate change.

    ALL OF THE WORLD’S MAJOR SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS agree that climate change is real, is mostly caused by human activity, and will most likely cause major harms if not addressed.

    NUMEROUS NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS have said so, and have also urged the world community, including the United States, to face and address the problem.

    LEADING ETHICISTS, MORAL PHILOSOPHERS, and HUMANITARIANS have been calling out for honesty and for responsible action.

    Within the U.S. political context, EVEN MITT ROMNEY and NEWT GINGRICH have, in the past, before their unexplained flip-flops, indicated publicly that climate change is real and should be addressed.

    Why do I list these things?

    Because given these facts, and others like them, President Obama, the Obama Administration, the Dems, and also CAP, OUGHT TO BE ABLE TO MOUNT a MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE EFFORT to educate the public, to take initial actions (such as saying ‘no’ to Keystone XL), to speak clearly about climate change, to set a solid stage for future actions, and to “go for it” in a way that’s up to the task at hand and in line with what a President SHOULD be doing at this point.

    That was a long sentence. Sorry. The point is this: With THAT sort of information on his side, and with those sorts of credible authorities and voices calling for action on his side (that is, on the side of taking action to address climate change), President Obama ought to be able to be much more bold, and much more effective, regarding climate change. Period. One must wonder what the problem is: Does President Obama genuinely want to face and address climate change? If he DOES genuinely want to do so, the problems must be immense problems of judgment and competence.

    Is the problem one of will, or one of “way”? Here, I’m asking about President Obama’s role in all of this.

    Regarding The Pope

    Thank you, Catherine, for this great post. It’s great to hear that more religious leaders — including big ones — are speaking out. The only request I’d make, if it’s possible, is this: It would be great to see an entire transcript of the Pope’s remarks on climate change in this latest speech. Even the coverage, at the link, doesn’t include a transcript, but instead includes the few selected phrase-quotes, not even as complete sentences. There is a recording, but even it involves excerpts and, of course, is in Italian or Latin. So, would it somehow be possible to get the full transcript, in English, of the Pope’s recent comments, to see precisely what he said, IN CONTEXT?


    Be Well,


  3. Ernest says:

    Besides scientific authority, I think it’s extremely important that people of moral authority and people of faith speak up. This is a moral issue as well as a scientific one. Most people in the world believe in God or some kind of higher power, as well as some kind of ethical accountability for the lives that they have led. This includes the Republicans (even if not from the same church/religion). At least for those who a deliberately cynical in their strategy, who should know better, yet play the deniers game to protect certain economic interests … they should examine their conscience.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ratzinger has been a pleasant surprise in many ways. His rationality and decency here will make no difference, of course. Kyoto is getting hit at Durban, and China is already being set up by the MSM as the Lee Harvey Oswald patsy. The ruling 0.01% want the numbers of the 99.9% dramatically reduced, and ecological chaos is plainly their preferred means to achieve their Malthusian ambitions.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Beware perverted faith. There are many accomplices in human destruction on the ‘religious’ Right who are positively aching for ecological catastrophe, economic collapse and geo-political chaos, because they have been brainwashed by really malevolent forces into seeing these disasters as divinely ordained, and ushering in an age of chaos, of The Rapture, of Armageddon, of the Apocalypse. And they are looking forward to the ‘UnGodly'(and that means most of humanity)going through real horror and terror. Imagining that future gives them real pleasure.