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Cardinal Turkson addresses the Summit of Consciences for the Climate

July 21, 2015:

Cardinal Turkson addresses the Summit of Consciences.

Archbishop Peter Turkson is Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Originally from Ghana today he is based at the Vatican with Pope Francis. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and tipped to be the representative of Pope Francis to COP21.

The following is a transcript of Cardinal Turkson's address to the Summit of Consciences.

Mr. President, Your Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, Distinguished Religious and Faith Leaders, Ambassadors and Ministers of State, Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you all the greetings of (Pope Francis) the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace of the Holy See, and its prayerful wishes for a successful Summit. I thank Mr. Nicholas Hulot for his very kind invitation, which has brought me the honour of participating in and addressing this summit.

Mr. President, Your Holiness, My Dear Friends: Coming from every corner of the globe, your presence reminds us of the global character of the issue that has brought us together. At stake is the well-being of the earth, "our common home", and the world situation leads us to discover that different, yet important, perspectives are ever more intertwined and complementary: the riches of faith and of spiritual tradition, the seriousness of scientific research, the concrete efforts at various levels of both government and civil society, all for an equitable and sustainable development.

As you may know, a similar concern for the well-being of the earth has made Pope Francis publish lately an Encyclical (a circular letter) on Integral Ecology, entitled: "Lodato si, On Care for our Common Home". There, Pope Francis is driven by the fact that the logical consequence of belief in and love of God is love also for what God has made/created, namely, the Human person and the world/earth: a garden meant to serve as the home of the human person.

Among the main points made by Pope Francis in Laudato si' are that:
  • humanity is not separate from the environment in which we live; rather humanity and the natural environment are one;
  • the accelerating change in climate is undeniable, catastrophic, worsened by human activities, but also amenable to human intervention;
  • the grave errors that increase our disastrous indifference to the environment include a throwaway-culture of consumerism, and a naive confidence that technological advances and undirected commercial markets will inevitably solve our environmental problems;
  • we must address the ethical nature of our crisis, both through dialogue, and by recovering our fundamental spiritual dimension.
As Pope Francis said in an earlier document, Evangelii Gaudium, "Realities are more important than ideas." Laudato si' is not an abstract document. It resonates with out lived human experience.

In fact, the central question asked by the Holy Father in Laudato si', similar to the concern that has brought us here, is: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?". It simply cannot be an environment unable to sustain life, nor a place of unending strife among peoples. From a garden that was given to us, we cannot bequeath a wilderness (the result of neglect) to our children.

"Everything is closely interrelated, and today's problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis". This is why Pope Francis proposes an integral ecology, "which clearly respects its human and social dimensions".

Pope Francis acknowledges that environmental awareness is growing nowadays, along with concern for the damage that is being done. Based on this observation, the Pope keeps a hopeful outlook on the possibility of reversing the trend: "Humanity still has the ability to work together in building out common home". "Men and women are still capable of intervening positively". "All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start".

In Laudato si' the Holy Father is unambiguous: climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. He recognizes a very solid scientific consensus about the disturbing warming of the climatic system. This is mainly the result of human activity, namely, the intensive and expanding use of fossil fuels. The Pope notes that the climate is a common good (a global common), belonging to all and meant for all. Yet the costs of climate change are being borne disproportionately by those least responsible for it and least able to adapt to it- the poor. Overall, climate change is a global problem with a spectrum of serious implications: environmental, social, economic and political.

Facing our leadership is the "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". "The use of highly polluting fossil fuels - especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay", with intelligent and widespread access to renewable sources of energy, facilitating this energy transition. Lamenting the failure of past global summits on the environment, the Holy Father calls urgently for enforceable international agreements to stop climate change. He gives many examples, at different levels, of what can be done "to reverse the trend of global warming" and "to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change". He prays to God for a favourable outcome to the upcoming discussions.

The COP21 conference for climate change (Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015) will be crucial in identifying strong solutions for climate change, "accompanied by the gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments".

The Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) are also relevant in this context. For example, the 13th proposed SDG will express this imperative: "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts." Related goals include:
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
These goals, which are similar to important points made in Laudato si', await the pledges and the will of the whole world community during the 70th U.N. General Assembly beginning in mid-September 2015.

Yet the single biggest obstacle to the "imperative to change course" is not economic, scientific or even technological, but rather within our minds and hearts. "The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions".

Such a courageous reform will take place only if we heed "the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress". The political dimension needs to re-establish democratic control over the economy and finance, that is, over the basic choices made by human societies.

The path before us is a challenging one, one that demands--particularly from the developed world--humility, sobriety and sacrifice, that all may share in the boundless wonders and blessings that God has intended for us in his creation, and for many millennia to come. This is the path the entire human family is on, the one which leads through New York to Paris and beyond.

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson


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