When it comes to international development and relief-related spending, faith-based aid groups are among the largest and most far reaching. Some Christian development and missionary groups are reaching people like no other groups can, due to historical networks, and providing top quality services, often in health and education. This exposure to communities in need is a powerful driver that has put some faith groups at the frontline of the battle to prevent climate catastrophe.
This week, Pope Francis is schedule to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines and pay a visit to the Tacloban region, the ground zero of last year’s destructive super-Typhoon Hayyan. This region has been labeled as the most vulnerable and least prepared to face the impacts of climate change.
While the Philippines contribute only 0.24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is one of the countries to be hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Its vulnerability to more frequent and ever intensifying storms, flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather events echoes the same story we see over and over again: people in the Global South don’t yet have the necessary means to mitigate and adapt to climate change that is created mostly by the industrialized world.
In recent years, the Vatican is undergoing a shift toward environmental values and explicit concern for the issue of climate change. In 2007, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican announced its ambition to become the world’s first carbon neutral country, through increased use of solar energy and the reforestation of 37 acres of land in Hungary. Pope John Paul II warned of looming global ecological crises brought by fossil fuels and deforestation and the Catholic Church has adopted increasingly urgent positions on climate change.
In 2001, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) declared climate change a moral responsibility for the faithful, linking it to “our human stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to those who come after us.” In 2011, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic Charities agencies, called inaction on climate change “moral apartheid,” and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in a study commissioned by the Vatican and presented to Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, framed the climate crisis in no uncertain moral terms: “We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home.” In a May, 2014, the USCCB also stressed the need to find ways to “reduce carbon pollution,” updating its earlier teaching.
This is why we look to Pope Francis to stand with the people, and not with the powers fueling the climate crisis. We urge him to use his moral authority to set an example for the world and commit to divest the Vatican from fossil fuels joining the 181 institutions and thousands of individuals worldwide who have already committed to divest from fossil fuels.
The world desperately needs to usher a new era where people and planet override the incessant drive for profit-making. Next month, thousands of people worldwide will join Global Divestment Day to continue to build momentum challenging the social license of this rogue industry. It is time to write off the fossil fuel industry and free the world from their shackles of despair and corruption. It is time to get out on the streets, use facebook and twitter for the sake of all humankind.