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Catholic Actors moving with hope and faith beyond COP

Catholic Actors at COP28 meeting with the Holy See delegation (photo credit: Criselle Mejillano)

In the last few days of the UNFCCC COP28 in Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Ecojesuit (through the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change) joined a gathering of Catholic actors from non-government organizations to discern possible modalities of engagement in forthcoming global discussions on ecology as a faith-based group.

It was an informal gathering, and all who were present recognized the vital role faith voices from civil society play in echoing the moral imperative of climate justice in international spaces. The Catholic Church is increasingly recognizing the importance of engaging in such spaces. The Vatican State has become an official Party representative in the UNFCCC process. The delegation led by the Apostolic Nuncio emphasized in the negotiations the important role of education as a cross-cutting theme in the ecological mission.

This is how Pope Francis’ call in his address (delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin) during the World Climate Action Summit comes alive: “Climate change signals the need for political change… In this regard, I would assure you of the commitment and support of the Catholic Church, which is deeply engaged in the work of education and of encouraging participation by all, as well as in promoting sound lifestyles, since all are responsible and the contribution of each is fundamental.”

Before 2023 ended, the group (informally called ‘Catholic Actors’) held a simple virtual webinar to share key outcomes of COP28, and reflections from youth, lay Catholic women, and members of the clergy. The group collectively agreed to collaborate and act for the climate justice mission. Allen Ottaro, Founder and Executive Director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) echoed the call of Laudato Si’: “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” (LS 13)

Now in the first few months of 2024, the Catholic Actors reconvened to sustain the momentum built in Dubai and take the engagement further. The fundamental question of identity was raised, and the group decided to proceed as a network of Catholic organizations engaging in environmental policies at the United Nations level, guided by the principles of integral ecology (in the context of listening to the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth).

A critical point raised was the importance of finding ways to engage nationally, especially that countries are gearing up to prepare the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Catholic Actors group is comprised of diverse members from different regions and local contexts, that could bring forward experiences on agroecology, loss and damage, climate finance, just transition, and NDC engagement. Working groups will be formed revolving around these processes to draw in local and regional experiences, and explore how these can be connected with UNFCCC processes such as the intercessional meetings (Bonn Climate Change Conference 2024, and the regional climate weeks).

The next COPs will be critical, with COP29 in Azerbaijan focusing on the Newly Quantified Goal on Climate Finance and COP30 in Brazil focusing on NDCs. COP31 (possibly in Oceania) will be the most critical, as it will be the 10th year since the Paris Agreement was ratified. Most Heads of State will once more sign a legally-binding international treaty.

The path ahead is a challenge, and while there are still a number of uncertainties in terms of how the group will cohesively proceed as a network, the group’s willingness to act is a source of hope and faith. This is the shift emerging that will influence social process in international discussions – a renewed commitment to care for the common home for the sake of the common good. 

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