Laudate Deum and COP28
By Osservatore Romano
“Eight years have passed since I published the Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, when I wanted to share with all of you, my brothers and sisters of our suffering planet, my heartfelt concerns about the care of our common home. Yet, with the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point. In addition to this possibility, it is indubitable that the impact of climate change will increasingly prejudice the lives and families of many persons. We will feel its effects in the areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migrations, etc.” (2).
In these words, we clearly find the reasons that led Pope Francis, through the apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum, to appeal to “all people of good will” to pay due attention to the “climatic crisis”.
In the short but intense papal document, many passages refer to the next Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), which will take place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023. 198 countries have joined the Convention, including the Holy See. On Wednesday, 11 October, the President-Designate of COP28, His Excellency Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, was received by the Holy Father.
“If we are confident in the capacity of human beings to transcend their petty interests and to think in bigger terms, we can keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring. This Conference can represent a change of direction, showing that everything done since 1992 was in fact serious and worth the effort, or else it will be a great disappointment and jeopardize whatever good has been achieved thus far” (54).
Avoiding this “disappointment” is the concern of everyone: it is a process that calls into question numerous “actors”, which are mentioned more or less directly in Laudate Deum, in the hope that their interaction can make sure that “ethics will prevail over local or contingent interests” (39) and respond to the “failure of conscience and responsibility” denounced by Laudato Si’ (169).
One of these actors is the scientific community, committed to highlighting what the first chapter of Laudato si’ recalls: “What is happening to our common home”.
After eight years of this “prophetic” text, the Laudate Deum observes that “it is no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change” (11) and that, unfortunately, “we are now unable to halt the enormous damage we have caused. We barely have time to prevent even more tragic damage” (16). Faced with this worrying observation, we cannot remain inactive or indifferent, but “a broader perspective is urgently needed, one that can enable us to esteem the marvels of progress, but also to pay serious attention to other effects that were probably unimaginable a century ago” (18).
This is where another actor comes into play: the entrepreneurial world, which has the important role of proactively responding to this sense of urgency from the scientific community and intelligently promoting a rapid transition, really taking care of our common home.
According to Laudato si’ “business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (129); in this perspective, Laudate Deum underlines that “it is often heard also that efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels and developing cleaner energy sources will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs. What is happening is that millions of people are losing their jobs due to different effects of climate change: rising sea levels, droughts and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift. Conversely, 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. This demands that politicians and business leaders should even now be concerning themselves with it” (10).
This can only have a positive impact on a third actor: young people and new generations. It is easy to notice that the articulated plot of Laudate Deum turns around them: “What is being asked of us is nothing other than a certain responsibility for the legacy we will leave behind, once we pass from this world” (18). Pope Francis’ speech to university students during the World Youth Day in Lisbon on 3 August 2023 comes to mind: “So, work to bring about a new “choreography”, one that respects the “dance” of life by putting the human person at the centre. […] This old man now speaking to you – for I am an old man! – also dreams that yours will become a generation of teachers! Teachers of humanity. Teachers of compassion. Teachers of new opportunities for our planet and its inhabitants. Teachers of hope. And teachers who defend the life of our planet, which today is threatened with severe ecological damage”. Here is that the educational and training lever becomes an essential enabler.
Civil society is a fourth actor. Echoing the words of the encyclical Fratelli tutti that “many groups and organizations within civil society help to compensate for the shortcomings of the international community, its lack of coordination in complex situations, its lack of attention to fundamental human rights” (175), Laudate Deum emphasises that “in the medium-term, globalization favours spontaneous cultural interchanges, greater mutual knowledge and processes of integration of peoples, which end up provoking a multilateralism “from below” and not simply one determined by the elites of power. The demands that rise up from below throughout the world, where activists from very different countries help and support one another, can end up pressuring the sources of power. It is to be hoped that this will happen with respect to the climate crisis” (38).
A fifth actor is represented by the governments. COP28 will be hosted and chaired by the United Arab Emirates. The country, a great exporter of fossil fuels, has been going through an energy transition for almost 20 years. As Presidency of COP28, it developed an Action Agenda with four key pillars: fast-tracking a just and orderly energy transition, fixing climate finance, focusing on people, nature, lives and livelihoods, and underpinning everything with full inclusivity. “Emerging forces are becoming increasingly relevant and are in fact capable of obtaining important results in the resolution of concrete problems […]. The very fact that answers to problems can come from any country, however little, ends up presenting multilateralism as an inevitable process” (40). Pope Francis encourages everyone to have hope in a positive outcome of the COP28.
In fact, COP28 has in front of it an important opportunity to give a real impulse towards the transition focusing on the common good and the future of our children: “the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level” (69). It is a complex, but necessary process, for humanity today and tomorrow, that requires everyone’s involvement, in the awareness that “Everything is connected” and “No one is saved alone” (19) and that “there are no lasting changes without cultural changes, without a maturing of lifestyles and convictions within societies, and there are no cultural changes without personal changes” (70). “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies” (73).
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