We should listen to what Pope Francis says about the climate crisis

Pontiff’s 2015 encyclical calls for the profound and radical action we need

Drought and extreme weather conditions from the climate crisis will leave millions at risk of hunger and displacement. File photograph: Norberto Duarte/AFP via Getty Images

Drought and extreme weather conditions from the climate crisis will leave millions at risk of hunger and displacement. File photograph: Norberto Duarte/AFP via Getty Images

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Climate change and environmental destruction are the biggest threats facing humanity today. It is an outrage that the most vulnerable communities in our world, those who have contributed least to the climate crisis, are the most affected, with millions facing hunger and displacement due to increasing drought and extreme weather conditions.

The spotlight will be firmly on this critical global issue when heads of governments, powerful business leaders and campaigners gather in Glasgow for two weeks in November for the next round of UN climate talks, or COP26.

This crucial summit will be a test of solidarity between the world’s rich and poor, and the most important climate talks since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Caoimhe de Barra is chief executive of Trócaire, an agency of the Irish Catholic Church that is working around the world to tackle poverty, inequality and injustice

In June 2015 Pope Francis published his groundbreaking encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home. The timing of its launch was recognised as making a significant contribution to the signing of the Paris Agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) that same year.

It is addressed to “every single person living on this planet”, of all faiths, urging each and every one of us to listen to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

Human impact

Every day Trócaire bears witness to the burden and human impact of climate change faced by people like Madalena Mangadzuwa (45), a mother of six from Malawi. She farms a tiny patch of land in a country that is repeatedly hit by droughts, floods and cyclones – all directly related to the climate crisis.

Malawi, where I worked for three years, is one of the countries in the world most affected by climate change, but one which has contributed least to it. In the last 36 years Malawi has experienced eight major droughts, affecting more than 24 million people.

Before Madalena joined a programme run by Trócaire’s partner Eagles Relief and Development, she only managed to produce enough food to feed her family for six months of the year.

There is now a growing mobilisation of people of all faiths and none around the world behind climate justice

The rest of the year Madalena, and thousands of other women in her dire situation, was forced to use coping strategies that no mother should have to fall back on: withdrawing children from school for labour; doing daily “piece work” to earn enough for one evening meal; reducing meals to only one or two a day, or begging from neighbours. Daughters were married while still in their teens so families would have food to eat.

But it does not have to be this way. We in richer countries should not be asking people like Madalena, who are vulnerable to severe exploitation and abuse, to shoulder the burden of climate change.

Every political failure to act on climate change, and every delay to the implementation of commitments, places the burden of climate change on the shoulders of women like Madalena.

However, there is now a growing mobilisation of people of all faiths and none around the world behind climate justice. Laudato Si’ is a radical document, that calls for profound and urgent action.

It is challenging the status quo of a political economy that continues to drive carbon emissions higher and higher, despite all of the evidence pointing to the devastating impacts of climate change on current and future generations.

Madalena now produces 11 months’ worth of food from her own small farm, following training on agroecological practices supported by Trócaire

It urges those in power to rethink structures and policies which put unlimited economic growth and private gain at the fore. Laudato Si’ has enlivened Catholics everywhere to connect climate change to global injustice and to take action at a local and global level.

Irish action

The church in Ireland has been playing its part. In 2018 the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference became the first bishops’ conference in the world to announce their divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and individual dioceses have followed this example.

Wildfires in the drought-hit western United States and Canada are continuing to scorch vast areas. Photograph: US Forest Service/AFP via Getty
'Every political failure to act on climate change, and every delay to the implementation of commitments, places the burden of climate change on the shoulders of women like Madalena.' Photograph: US Forest Service/AFP via Getty

Trócaire, inspired by Laudato Sí’, is dedicated to not only ensuring that Madalena and others in her situation are protected from the worst impacts of climate change, but that they also be given a voice in this global debate on climate change.

Madalena now produces 11 months’ worth of food from her own small farm, following training on agroecological practices supported by Trócaire. She is part of community discussions on how to reduce the impact of climate change.

Her community is represented by young Malawian activists who have campaigned for both climate legislation in Malawi, and for the global community to take concrete actions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Trócaire’s Living Laudato Si’ project is mobilising communities all over Ireland to take action. Ahead of COP26, Trócaire is supporting a petition endorsed by the Vatican called “Healthy Planet, Healthy People”.

It calls for a joined-up, just response to the Covid-19, climate and biodiversity crises. It calls for an end to fossil fuels and damaging agricultural approaches, and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Signing the petition at www.healthyplanetandpeople.org is one simple action we can all take today, and invite our friends and communities to do the same.

We must all play our part.

Details of Trócaire’s Living Laudato Si’ project are at www.trocaire.org/our-work/working-in-ireland/parishes/laudato-si/

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