There is a strategic cause for Pope Francis not to attend the COP26, if not for health reasons it would also be a way to distance himself from the “much talks” not “acting” in the Conference of Parties (COP) framework.
While Pope Francis is adamant on the failures of COP actors to address in a “global way” the climate emergency—he is consistently critical of both high-polluting countries and capitalist corporate polluters.
Vatican in COP26
The Vatican representation, mostly from the Secretariat of State, would many times be in “diplomatic mode” during COP. Although the representation is only in Observer Status, the sharp-edged critical messages of Pope Francis have been delivered during the high-level segment of the many conferences.
At times the Vatican representatives have tried to dialogue with the Christian voices during COP negotiations, including activists across sectors of the environmental movement. The Ecology Desk of the Vatican Dicastery on Human Development, whose representatives are always on the side of climate activists; are much more articulate about the essential points of integral ecology espoused by Pope Francis.
In the landmark document after Laudato Si’, the Querida Amazonia, he spoke of an ecological dream for the world to take action.
He said: “The powerful are never satisfied with the profits they make, and the resources of economic power greatly increase as a result of scientific and technological advances. For this reason, all of us should insist on the urgent need to establish ‘a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems… otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics, but also freedom and justice’. If God calls us to listen both to the cry of the poor and that of the earth, then for us, ‘the cry of the Amazon region to the Creator is similar to the cry of God’s people in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7). It is a cry of slavery and abandonment pleading for freedom’. (QA no. 52)
These themes are highly critical capitalist system/s the main culprit of earth’s destruction after the period of the industrial revolution. When the earth became the sole subject of the capitalist greed; the people and the whole of the planet as victims of their callousness. Not even today, can these capitalist powers see the damage they are doing.
Integral Ecology Beyond Paris
In almost all his messages for the Conference of Parties, Pope Francis always would bring the themes of the care of the common home, about the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, and the vulnerable populations—embodying the core message of Laudato Si’.
Within the timeline of Pope Francis’ papacy, his statements during the yearly COP meetings are always connected with his integral ecology vision:
“Every crisis calls for vision, the ability to formulate plans and put them rapidly into action, to rethink the future of the world, our common home, and to reassess our common purpose” Pope Francis said during his recent BBC interview about COP 26.
During the COP25 in Madrid (2019), the message of Pope Francis was: “we must seriously ask ourselves if there is the political will to allocate with honesty, responsibility and courage, more human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, as well as to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations who suffer from them the most.”
COP24 in Poland (2018), few months ahead of the COP session, Pope Francis said: “We all know that much still needs to be done to implement that Agreement. All governments should strive to honour the commitments made in Paris, in order to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. ‘Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most’, and we cannot afford to waste time.”
In the COP23 in Germany (2017), he already spoke of addressing “climate emergency” and its impacts on vulnerable populations: “The [Paris] Agreement indicates a clear path for transition toward an economic development model of low or zero carbon consumption, encouraging solidarity and leveraging the strong existing ties between the fight against climate change and that against poverty. This transition is further demanded by the climatic emergency which requires greater commitment from the countries, some of which must seek to adopt a leading role in this transition, taking to heart the needs of the most vulnerable populations.”
Pope Francis have seen the continuing reluctance of countries on the Paris Agreement, all the more, he continued making his pleas COP22 in Marakkesh (2016): “[…] the entire international community is called to engage; the COP22 represents a central stage in this journey. It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change, and call us to the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures, setting aside particular interests and behaviour.”
Months after the launching and release of his encyclical Laudato Si’, COP21 climate talks was held in Paris (2015), this was his message prior to the signing of the Paris Agreement: “It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects […] I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and ‘transformational’ agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.”
Fruitfulness from the wilderness
Pope Francis is a voice from the wilderness, and yet he continued to amplify the grassroots voices. He even inspired from outside the Roman Catholic Church, from within the Christendom, even among scientists, activists and individuals. He spoke of taking immediate action, not like the failed promises of world leaders.
Bishop Alberto Uy of the Diocese of Tagbilaran in the island of Bohol, took up the challenge of Pope Francis by encouraging the church communities within the diocese to participate actively in the program “Kalibotan, Ampingan Ta!” (Our Earth, Let us take care!) by planting and growing indigenous trees.
Brother Simon Peter Jardinico of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Charity, takes a more challenging response by accompanying the displaced communities in Calajo-an, Minglanilla, Cebu in their opposition against the massive reclamation development project that will destroy the protected marine and biodiversity coastline in the area; and will also impact the livelihood fisherfolk community. He said during the recent protest action “the capitalist investors and government functionaries are uniting in the destruction of our environment, displacing the people especially the poor!”
More should be expected from our Catholic communities worldwide. Pope Francis provides us with a better vision for a livable planet—a common concern for the planet and people.
Bro. Jaazeal Jakosalem, OAR is a Filipino Laudato Si’ reader. A member of Pusyon Kinaiyahan, an environmental group in the Visayas. Currently based in Germany as a member of PCPR-Europe, working for the Philippine campaigns related to the protection of human rights.