By Vositha Wijenayake
The long awaited encyclical of Pope Francis was released today (18th June) six months ahead of the crucial climate change negotiations which will take place at the end of year in Paris. The papal encyclical, which is the highest form of teaching to be issued by the Vatican highlights key issues such as addressing the needs of the poor, taking immediate actions on climate change, and right to development which also overlaps with responsible use of natural resources.
His holiness while acknowledging climate to be a common good recognises climate change to be human induced, and points to the need to address its impacts immediately.
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades,” states the encyclical.
It further points out that climate change is real, its effects are already felt and that mitigation is not the only solution as developing countries will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Pope Francis also elaborates the need for finance for countries which are vulnerable to climate change to adapt to its impacts.
“Since the effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now, some countries with scarce resources will require assistance in adapting to the effects already being produced, which affect their economies,” it reads.
Common But Differentiated Responsibilities
The encyclical marks a clear difference in role, and the responsibility on the part of countries in taking measures to address climate change. It highlights the vulnerability of the poor, and the injustice of pushing heavy burdens on the shoulders of developing States.
“Some strategies for lowering pollutant gas emissions call for the internationalization of environmental costs, which would risk imposing on countries with fewer resources burdensome commitments to reducing emissions comparable to those of the more industrialized countries. Imposing such measures penalizes those countries most in need of development. A further injustice is perpetrated under the guise of protecting the environment,” it adds.
Pope Francis further notes that in addressing the issue of climate change in the aforementioned manner, it is the poor who end up paying the price and continues, “In this context, there is a need for common and differentiated responsibilities.”
Climate Induced Displacement
The Pope speaks of those who are displaced due to climate change, and are homeless yet do not fit into the traditional definition of being a refugee affording to the Refugee Convention of 1957. The encyclical while highlighting the vulnerability of these groups of people, also points to the gaps in international law that fails to address the concerns of the displaced.
“There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognised by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world.”
Fossil Fuel to Renewables
The encyclical states that the issue of climate change is created by development strategies dependent on fossil fuels. It reads, “The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.”
It continues in pointing the urgent need for policies that shift from fossil fuel to non fossil based energy generation.
“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”
The encyclical also focuses on sustainable development and highlights the need for it to be hand in hand with integral development. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change,” says the encyclical.
It is expected that the Pope will travel to the US in September to address the UN General Assembly which will bring together leaders of Nations to make decisions on the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also the hope that the encyclical will be cause for inspiration to rally nations to make binding commitments in Paris, to bring down their emissions as actions to address the impacts of climate change.
About the Author:
Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.