With rare unity, Catholic leaders urge 'transformational' climate deal

An international group of Catholic leaders has appealed to the United Nations to forge a strong climate agreement that is fair to poorer nations.

Al­essandro Bianchi/Reuters
Cardinal Oswald Gracias (c.) signs an appeal next to Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez (2nd l.) during a news conference at the Vatican, Monday. Roman Catholic leaders from around the world on Monday made a joint appeal to a forthcoming United Nations conference on climate change to produce a 'fair, legally binding and truly transformational' agreement.

Following in the footsteps laid by Pope Francis in June, Roman Catholic leaders from around the world have issued an unprecedented joint appeal to an upcoming United Nations conference on climate change to produce "a truly transformational" agreement to stem global warming.

The group, which included Catholic cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops from five continents, signed the 10-page appeal at the Vatican on Monday. The document, based on the Pope’s landmark encyclical "Laudato Si", says that any climate agreement must be fair to the poorest and most vulnerable nations.

"The pope and Catholic Bishops from five continents, sensitive to the damage caused, appeal for a drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases," the appeal reads. "Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone."

World leaders from almost 200 nations will be meeting in Paris later this year to try and forge an international agreement to combat global warming. The meeting will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Negotiations have hit a snag recently centering on climate finance, with poorer nations wanting firmer and larger commitments from rich nations regarding how much money they will commit to helping poor nations curb their greenhouse gas emissions and respond to natural disasters like floods and drought.

An updated draft of the agreement last week contained almost 1,500 "points of disagreement."

Monday’s appeal was signed by Catholic leaders from India, Europe, Colombia, Lebanon, Angola, Canada, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. The appeal is the first in living memory to be totally global, representing all national or regional bishops’ conferences, said Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, at a news conference.

"It is important that there be a variety of non-state activists in [the climate talks], and the Church can be a very important player," Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told reporters.

The appeal means that Francis, while the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is no longer the church's sole voice calling for climate action. The pope's activism on environmental issues that some have criticized for being too political.

Ahead of the pope’s encyclical, a number of conservative Catholics criticized him. Christopher Monckton, a devout Catholic and former adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who has long been a leader of the climate skeptic movement, told Francis to "stand back and listen to both sides, and do not take sides in politics."

"You demean the office that you hold and you demean the church whom it is your sworn duty to protect and defend and advance," he added, according to The National Catholic Reporter.

In the United States, the Catholic appeals to combat global warming has challenged Catholics running for president, particularly Republicans who have questioned the existence of climate change and the human role in causing it.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert and a candidate for the Republican nomination, dismissed the pope’s encyclical after a draft of the document was leaked.

"I hope I'm not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home," Mr. Bush said at a campaign event in New Hampshire in June, "but I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope."

This report contains material from Reuters.

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