(Update June 2005)
At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both “the human environment” and the natural environment.
The issue of global climate change raises two central religious and moral concerns: “How are we to fulfill God’s call to be stewards of creation in an age when we may have the capacity to alter that creation significantly, and perhaps irrevocably? How can we as a ‘Family of nations’ exercise stewardship in a way that respects and protects the integrity of God’s creation and provides for the common good, as well as for economic and social progress based on justice?” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, June 2001
The Framework Convention on Global Climate Change
At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, more than 150 countries signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It has since been ratified by more than 180 countries including the United States. The signatories agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The agreement was voluntary. The parties at Rio also recognized “common but differentiated” responsibilities between developed and developing countries.
In 1995, the Parties to the Climate Convention admitted that voluntary measures were not working. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was established with binding targets for industrialized countries, but not for the developing ones. The United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol. The US Administration believes it would be too costly to implement and would put the US at an economic disadvantage because large developing countries like China (the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States), India and Brazil are exempt under Kyoto. Despite US opposition, Russia’s signing of the Protocol in December 2004 placed the Protocol in effect on February 16, 2005
The Current Political Debate in the United States
The politics of global climate change is fueled by very divergent perceptions of the economic, social, and political costs. While some still question the basic science of climate change, most of the public debate focuses on proposed solutions. Some fear that moving too fast will cripple economic growth across the globe. Others fear that waiting too long will necessitate more drastic measures later. Poorer countries blame richer ones for creating the problem in the first place. Richer countries spar over goals and procedures and increasingly want the poorer countries to fully participate.
During the most recent session of Congress, legislation for further research and reporting of emissions of greenhouse gases and for mechanisms to reduce emissions were introduced, but none passed. Nevertheless, the issue remains alive and continues to be contentious. The enactment of the Kyoto Protocol and the recent round of talks in Argentina in December 2004 add impetus for further consideration. In addition, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is committed to putting the issue of climate change on the agenda of the G-8 meeting in Scotland in July 2005. As of June 1, no climate change legislation has yet come before either chamber of the Congress. However, in the Senate, Senators McCain and Lieberman expect to offer their bill addressing climate change as a possible amendment to the energy bill or other pertinent legislation. Senators Bingaman and Hagel may also offer alternative legislative proposals. Little direct action is expected in the House.
USCCB Policy Position
In their June 2001 statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the bishops note: “Although debate continues about the extent and impact of this warming, it could be quite serious … Consequently, it seems prudent not only to continue to research and monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.” The statement also calls for a less polarized public debate and more focus on the global common good. The bishops call for thoughtful dialogue that relies on the political virtue of prudence. Prudence is not simply a cautious and safe approach, but rather a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.
Specifically, the Conference supports strong U.S. leadership and advocates for much greater assistance to the developing nations, particularly in providing economic development assistance to enable poorer countries to adopt state-of-the-art technology. The bishops also call for greater emphasis on energy conservation, the development of renewable and clean energy resources, and assistance to industries and workers displaced during the transition to new and more benign energy production.
The bishops’ primary concern in the current public debate is that the needs of poor people and developing nations be addressed. These countries have a right to a level of economic development that reduces poverty. Poorer countries cannot be made to bear an undue burden of the global adjustments needed to address climate change. The USCCB supports legislative provisions to assist the poor and adversely affected communities in mitigating the effects of global warming in the U.S. and developing countries. These measures must include additional foreign aid for sustainable development as well as technological assistance in adopting more benign and efficient energy production.
In July 2004, Cardinal McCarrick, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee, and Bishop John Ricard, Chairman of the International Policy Committee, sent a letter to the US Senate urging action to address climate change and specifically the needs of the poor (www.usccb.org/sdwp/ejp/news/climatechangeltr.shtml).
To date, the Conference has engaged in several actions addressing climate change policy:
- Passed a statement in 2001, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, that provides the basic policy guidance for Committee and staff;
- Jointly signed with other major religious leaders and noted scientists a statement calling for increased action to address the issue of climate change, in May, 2004
- Sent a letter in July, 2004 to members of the Senate urging them to seriously consider legislation that would help offset the impacts of climate change, particularly as it affects the poor, 2004.
- Received grant in April, 2005 to enable the program to start a more intensive education and organizing effort with selected state Catholic Conferences, dioceses and national Catholic organizations around the issue of climate change
We ask you to contact your Senators and Congressional representative to urge greater U.S. leadership to address climate change and to provide significant economic and technical support to developing countries. We also strongly urge you to assist your bishop in sending a cover letter and a copy of the bishops’ statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, to your members in both the House and Senate.