October is shaping up to be an important month for action on climate change. Last week alone, President Obama indicated his support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate and reduce carbon emissions from major U.S. industry polluters, and Senators Kerry and Boxer introduced their version of the House’s climate change bill to the Senate floor – The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. Like its counterpart in the House – The Markey-Waxman American Clean Energy and Security Act passed this summer – this act features a cap-and-trade emissions reduction strategy, but more bold short-term emissions reduction goals.
October is thus also important time for Catholics and anyone else interested in seeing responsible U.S. policy. The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change invites coalition members to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis by revisiting the St. Francis Pledge, pledge that calls each of us to action in defense of those impacted by the changing climate. AFJN encourages all who have been following issues of justice and poverty-reduction in Africa to engage the climate change debate and take the pledge themselves and join the Climate Change Covenant, as many of our members did several months ago.
Changing climate brings about more erratic weather patterns, with implications for small-holder farmers already facing troubles with drought and declining water supplies and for communities without the income to invest in infrastructure to protect them from increasing natural disasters. Already, the Sahel region has experienced a 25 percent decline in rainfall and a greater degree of unpredictability since the 1960s, with more frequent droughts alternating with excessive inundations. Yields from rain-fed agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa could be reduced by as much as 50 percent by 2020.
Overall, the United States has demonstrated increased willingness to take steps in reducing our own carbon footprint, especially in anticipation of upcoming global summit on climate change in Copenhagen this December. Yet, there continues to be inadequate support for those who will feel the impact of the harm already done, those in the Global South who will feel it first and worst. According to The Guardian, of nearly $18bn (£12.5bn) pledged in the last seven years by world leaders for climate adaptation, “less than $0.9bn has been disbursed and long delays are plaguing many funds.” Furthermore, Africa, parts of which have been called “ground zero” for climate change impact, has received less than 12% of all the climate fund money spent in the last four years. Considering that individuals in these nations have contributed least to the problem (the 50 poorest countries collectively contribute less than one percent of global carbon dioxide emissions) and considering how quickly and effectively our government can mobilize for the protection of our own industries in times of crisis, we should be able to expect more from our policymakers.
As it continues to work on crafting its response to the climate crisis, the U.S. Senate should continue setting bold targets for emissions reduction that will leave the rise in global temperatures well below the 2 degree Celcius tipping point. But it should ensure that, this time around, sufficient resources are dedicated to support those communities hit the hardest as they develop local strategies for adapting to the changing environment. Congress should also consider improving its support for those who are displaced by the effects of climate change, who currently do not have access to legal status as refugees and thus have no access to refugee resettlement in the U.S.
AFJN also encourages each of you to get involved as well. Visit the Catholic Climate Covenant website to sign the St. Francis pledge and to see how you can contribute your time and talent to their St. Francis day efforts to spread the word on climate change. And remember, “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.” (Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001, p.1).
See past AFJN work on Climate Change: