by Rebecca Eastwood
“Don’t let this moment pass.”
That was the message Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh emphasized on the first anniversary Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ historic encyclical that addresses humanity’s relationship with all of God’s creation.
On June 18, 2019, Laudato Si’ turns four years old! This document catalyzed incredibly hopeful movements in the Catholic Church to address the issue of climate change. It tackled topics such as economic injustice, biodiversity, and the interconnectedness of life, and by doing so, it enabled the Church and all of society to expand our understanding of what must be done to safeguard the natural world.
Four years after its publication, however, we have not seen the type of transformative action that Laudato Si’ called for.
Climate report after climate report alert us to the dangers posed by climate change and the limited amount of time we have to stave off its worst impacts. So has the world let this moment pass?
Pope Francis released Laudato Si’ just before the annual United Nations climate change conference in 2015. This timing was not an accident - the momentum Laudato Si’ created helped launch the historic Paris climate agreement. All the countries of the world came together to pledge action on climate change and hold each other accountable to their commitments.
So where is the Paris agreement now?
When the Paris agreement was initially adopted, each country had to submit their own plan for how they were going to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as how they would support more developing countries with their plan. They then agreed to revisit these contributions in 5 years to ensure that each country was living up to their initial commitment and encourage increased ambition.
Increasing ambition is critical! The Paris Agreement sought to halt the global rise in temperature by 1.5-degrees, but our world is currently on track for a 3-degree rise.
It’s been four years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, and we know that our initial pledges are not sufficient to lower global temperatures. Without major increases to our commitments, we will not avoid climate catastrophe.
To add to this stark reality, the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement and our nation’s subsequent lack of federal action on climate change puts our own country’s contribution to the agreement in the ‘critically insufficient’ category, along with countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
It is clear then that the only way to enact the transformative change Laudato Si’ calls for is if all countries of the world meaningfully engage in the Paris climate agreement.
As Cardinal Turkson said on this anniversary of Laudato Si’, this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation.
Where is Congress on this?
So far during this 116th Congress, the House of Representatives has held over 50 hearings on climate change and environment-related issues. Ranging from the costs of climate change to opportunities for renewable energy to climate change impacts on indigenous communities, these hearings demonstrate a renewed interest in focusing on climate change.
But Congressional hearings are only a step along the way. Last month, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act. This bill would place the United States back in the Paris agreement and require the president to put forward a plan to meet our commitments. Every Democrat and three Republicans voted for the bill.
Action must now be taken up by the Senate, where Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has introduced the International Climate Accountability Act, a companion bill to H.R. 9. This bill is cosponsored by almost all Senate Democrats, but would need a significant amount of Republican support to be considered for a vote.
While this particular piece of legislation may not see a vote in the near future, Congress is beginning the process of voting on budget bills that will determine how much money each federal agency receives for the upcoming fiscal year. Included in the House of Representatives’ version are provisions that would fund programs such as energy efficiency, climate change research, renewable energy, and climate finance accounts. The climate finance accounts would improve our ability to aid developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change impacts and lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
These are all critical, tangible programs that help care for creation. These bills will undergo a series of votes in the House as the Senate prepares their own version, which we hope includes similar levels of funding. The House version and the Senate version will then be reconciled.
So where does this leave us?
As people of faith, we are called to not let this moment pass. On the fourth anniversary of the document that inspired the Church to take better care of God’s creation, we have the responsibility to keep that work alive.
Columbans all around the world are working to care for creation. In the Philippines, for example, Columbans accompany the Subanen indigenous people . In a recent reflection, Columban Fr. Vinnie Busch writes, “The Subanen regard their habitat as a sacred community to be cherished, not as a collection of resources to be exploited.” They work to live in communion with creation all while climate change threatens to upend their home forever.
(You can read more stories about Columbans working for environmental protection here.)
In solidarity with the Subanen and our communities here at home who see the impacts of climate change, we have an obligation to ensure that our governments take action on climate change on a global level. We invite you to write a “letter to the editor” of your local paper encouraging your Senators to support the International Climate Accountability Act. Click here for resources on how to do this!
Pope Francis asks, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? (LS 160)” What will our answer be?
Rebecca Eastwood is the Advocacy Coordinator for the Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach.
Copyright © 2019 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.