Vatican says climate change poses ethical challenge

Archbishop Celestino Migliore

Archbishop Celestino Migliore

December 2, 2013

WARSAW, POLAND – Climate change represents an "ethical challenge to civilization," said the Vatican's lead representative to an international conference discussing the worldwide impact of climate change.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore told attendees at a Church-run conference, "The crisis situation humanity currently faces has an economic, consumerist, environmental and social character, but is also fundamentally moral.

"If we accept that every person and community has the same right to use the atmosphere, then they also have the same duty to protect them.

"The scale of emissions must be proportionate to the size of population, emissions per capita and the level of (gross domestic product)," he said.

The archbishop said the Vatican would help "form consciences and ethical perspectives" on climate change in line with Catholic social teaching.

It also wants to encourage "fairness, impartiality and mutual responsibility" when it comes to action to address the environmental threat, he said.

Groups at the conference called on governments to reduce their reliance on coal, oil and other fossil resources.

The Nov. 18-19 Church-run conference coincided with the intergovernmental Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The conference brought together Catholic leaders, politicians, climate scientists and civil society groups.

At the conference's conclusion, Catholic aid organizations urged Church leaders to help publicize the hardships and sufferings caused by climate change.

"Governments are listening – they're open to their constituencies and ready to hear a spiritual message about faith and morality," said Markus Drake, spokesman for CIDSE, a Brussels-based alliance of 17 Catholic aid groups.

Drake told Catholic News Service Nov. 20 that he hoped Catholics "still unconvinced about climate change" would be persuaded by recent findings, including a September assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that human activity was its "dominant cause."

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the IPCC, said the panel's evidence had been accepted by all governments and 97 per cent of world scientists.

"Clear evidence" suggested Super Typhoon Haiyan, which wrecked the central Philippines Nov. 8, was linked to climate change, said van Ypersele, a professor of climatology and environmental sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain.

Auxiliary Bishop Theotonius Gomes of Dhaka, Bangladesh, said he believed awareness was growing of the "justice and charity aspects" of climate change.

He urged churches to join "a new type of revolution of increasing spiritual and humanistic awareness."

"Far from being an abstract, scientific issue, climate change is affecting real people in huge numbers," said Gomes.