I. Dialogue on the environment in the international community [164 – 175]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

164. Beginning in the middle of the last century
and overcoming many difficulties, there has
been a growing conviction that our planet is a
homeland and that humanity is one people living
in a common home. An interdependent world
not only makes us more conscious of the negative
effects of certain lifestyles and models of
production and consumption which affect us all;
more importantly, it motivates us to ensure that
solutions are proposed from a global perspective,
and not simply to defend the interests of a few
countries. Interdependence obliges us to think
of one world with a common plan. Yet the same ingenuity
which has brought about enormous technological
progress has so far proved incapable
of finding effective ways of dealing with grave
environmental and social problems worldwide. A
global consensus is essential for confronting the
deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by
unilateral actions on the part of individual countries.
Such a consensus could lead, for example,
to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture,
developing renewable and less polluting
forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient
use of energy, promoting a better management
of marine and forest resources, and ensuring
universal access to drinking water.

165. We know that technology based on 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. Until
greater progress is made in developing widely
accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate
to choose the lesser of two evils or to
find short-term solutions. But the international
community has still not reached adequate agreements
about the responsibility for paying the
costs of this energy transition. In recent decades,
environmental issues have given rise to considerable
public debate and have elicited a variety of
committed and generous civic responses. Politics
and business have been slow to react in a way
commensurate with the urgency of the challenges
facing our world. Although the post-industrial
period may well be remembered as one of the
most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there
is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of
the twenty-first century will be remembered for
having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.
166. Worldwide, the ecological movement has
made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts
of many organizations of civil society. It is
impossible here to mention them all, or to review
the history of their contributions. But thanks to
their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly
found a place on public agendas and
encouraged more far-sighted approaches. This
notwithstanding, recent World Summits on the
environment have not lived up to expectations
because, due to lack of political will, they were
unable to reach truly meaningful and effective
global agreements on the environment.

167. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro
is worth mentioning. It proclaimed that “human
beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable
development”.126 Echoing the 1972 Stockholm
Declaration, it enshrined international cooperation
to care for the ecosystem of the entire
earth, the obligation of those who cause pollution

126 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (14 June
1992), Principle 1.

to assume its costs, and the duty to assess
the environmental impact of given projects and
works. It set the goal of limiting greenhouse gas
concentration in the atmosphere, in an effort to
reverse the trend of global warming. It also drew
up an agenda with an action plan and a convention
on biodiversity, and stated principles regarding
forests. Although the summit was a real step
forward, and prophetic for its time, its accords
have been poorly implemented, due to the lack
of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic
review and penalties in cases of non-compliance.
The principles which it proclaimed still await an
efficient and flexible means of practical implementation.
168. Among positive experiences in this regard,
we might mention, for example, the Basel Convention
on hazardous wastes, with its system of
reporting, standards and controls. There is also
the binding Convention on international trade in
endangered species of wild fauna and flora, which
includes on-site visits for verifying effective compliance.
Thanks to the Vienna Convention for the
protection of the ozone layer and its implementation
through the Montreal Protocol and amendments,
the problem of the layer’s thinning seems
to have entered a phase of resolution.

169. As far as the protection of biodiversity and
issues related to desertification are concerned,
progress has been far less significant. With regard
to climate change, the advances have been
regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases requires
honesty, courage and responsibility, above
all on the part of those countries which are more
powerful and pollute the most. The Conference
of the United Nations on Sustainable Development,
“Rio+20” (Rio de Janeiro 2012), issued a
wide-ranging but ineffectual outcome document.
International negotiations cannot make significant
progress due to positions taken by countries
which place their national interests above the
global common good. Those who will have to
suffer the consequences of what we are trying to
hide will not forget this failure of conscience and
responsibility. Even as this Encyclical was being
prepared, the debate was intensifying. We believers
cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome
to the present discussions, so that future generations
will not have to suffer the effects of our
ill-advised delays.

170. Some strategies for lowering pollutant gas
emissions call for the internationalization of environmental
costs, which would risk imposing
on countries with fewer resources burdensome
commitments to reducing emissions comparable
to those of the more industrialized countries.
Imposing such measures penalizes those countries
most in need of development. A further injustice
is perpetrated under the guise of protecting
the environment. Here also, the poor end up
paying the price. Furthermore, since the effects
of climate change will be felt for a long time to
come, even if stringent measures are taken now,
some countries with scarce resources will require
assistance in adapting to the effects already being
produced, which affect their economies. In this
context, there is a need for common and differentiated
responsibilities. As the bishops of Bolivia
have stated, “the countries which have benefited
from a high degree of industrialization, at
the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse
gases, have a greater responsibility for providing
a solution to the problems they have caused”.127

171. The strategy of buying and selling “carbon
credits” can lead to a new form of speculation
which would not help reduce the emission
of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems
to provide a quick and easy solution under the
guise of a certain commitment to the environment,
but in no way does it allow for the radical
change which present circumstances require.
Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits
maintaining the excessive consumption of
some countries and sectors.

172. For poor countries, the priorities must be
to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the
social development of their people. At the same
time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous
level of consumption in some privileged sectors

127 Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, Pastoral Letter on the
Environment and Human Development in Bolivia El universo,
don de Dios para la vida (March 2012), 86.

of their population and to combat corruption
more effectively. They are likewise bound to develop
less polluting forms of energy production,
but to do so they require the help of countries
which have experienced great growth at the cost
of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking
advantage of abundant solar energy will require
the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies
which allow developing countries access
to technology transfer, technical assistance and
financial resources, but in a way which respects
their concrete situations, since “the compatibility
of [infrastructures] with the context for which
they have been designed is not always adequately
assessed”.128 The costs of this would be low,
compared to the risks of climate change. In any
event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted
in solidarity between all peoples.

173. Enforceable international agreements are
urgently needed, since local authorities are not
always capable of effective intervention. Relations
between states must be respectful of each
other’s sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually
agreed means of averting regional disasters
which would eventually affect everyone. Global
regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations
and prevent unacceptable actions, for example,
when powerful companies dump contaminated

128 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Energy,
Justice and Peace, IV, 1, Vatican City (2014), 53.

waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.

174. Let us also mention the system of governance
of the oceans. International and regional
conventions do exist, but fragmentation and the
lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control
and penalization end up undermining these efforts.
The growing problem of marine waste and
the protection of the open seas represent particular
challenges. What is needed, in effect, is
an agreement on systems of governance for the
whole range of so-called “global commons”.

175. 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. The twenty-first century, while
maintaining systems of governance inherited
from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the
power of nation states, chiefly because the economic
and financial sectors, being transnational,
tends to prevail over the political. Given this
situation, it is essential to devise stronger and
more efficiently organized international institutions,
with functionaries who are appointed fairly
by agreement among national governments, and
empowered to impose sanctions. As Benedict
XVI has affirmed in continuity with the social
teaching of the Church: “To manage the global
economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to
avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and
the greater imbalances that would result; to bring
about integral and timely disarmament, food security
and peace; to guarantee the protection of
the environment and to regulate migration: for
all this, there is urgent need of a true world political
authority, as my predecessor Blessed John
XXIII indicated some years ago”.129 Diplomacy
also takes on new importance in the work of developing
international strategies which can anticipate
serious problems affecting us all.


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