Prof. John Sweeney & Fr. Sean MacDonagh review the Pope’s Encyclical for An Taisce
Professor John Sweeney former President of An Taisce and Ireland’s top Climate Scientist and Fr. Sean MacDonagh, so long a leading Catholic environmental voice and friend of An Taisce combined to write “Cry of the Earth” for the Irish Bishops, which was provided to Cardinal Turkson, the main organiser of the Encyclical.
On reviewing the Encyclical for An Taisce, they said
“The Pope’s message is highly relevant to Ireland. It is a reminder of the urgent and compelling need for courageous political leadership to see off short term powerful interest groups in putting in place a legislative regime that is not simply a minimalist effort. It is also a stark reminder that climate change mitigation should not simply involve an economist-centred approach, but one that reflects the global as well as local interests of climate justice.”
The full text of their review for An Taisce
The Papal Encyclical Laudato Si, or Praised Be is so titled after a famous prayer by St. Francis of Assisi and reflects the commitment of Pope Francis to the themes of environmental stewardship and climate change. In it he calls for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality. This eagerly awaited encyclical from the first Pontiff from the Developing World brings immense moral authority to the requirement, especially by developed countries to address in a meaningful way the growing threat of climate change. In what is an endorsement of the environmental movement from the world’s oldest and largest international organisation, Pope Francis, a trained chemist, calls for urgent action to develop policies to reduce greenhouse gases, including moving away from fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.
The Encyclical follows on from a number of comments by previous Popes on the subject and emphasises that climate change is not simply an economic issue, but one with immense moral and ethical dimensions. In the lead-up to the crucial Paris Conference in November, when a global agreement is hoped for, the Encyclical provides a powerful contribution. The Pope calls for urgent and far reaching cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and stresses the need for an internationally supervised agreement to ensure national and local efforts deliver on their commitments. He emphasises the need to move away from a solely economics-based view of the natural world and reminds us that it is essentially a moral and ethical problem. Our disconnect with the natural world is leading, he says, to an ecological crisis of our own making as out ‘throw away’ society destroys ‘our common home’.
The main theme of the Encyclical is that of climate justice, essentially that the burdens imposed by the main greenhouse gas emitters should be recompensed, that the polluter should pay principle be recognised. This is highly relevant to Ireland, which has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates in the world. It is also relevant to the current Climate and Low Carbon Development Bill, currently making its way through the Oireachtas. The Pope is particularly critical of the failings of political leadership and praises the work of non governmental organisations and civil society groups in holding politicians, paralysed by vested interest groups into inaction, to account.
The Irish bishops have also been prominent in addressing this issue through their recent project/pastoral letter entitled: “Cry of the Earth” prepared in conjunction with Trocaire. Indeed the two principal authors of this document: Fr. Sean McDonagh and Professor John Sweeney are aware that their work was provided to Cardinal Turkson, the main organiser of the encyclical. A major conference on Climate Justice supported by Trocaire, University and St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, timed to coincide with the encyclical, will take place in Maynooth next week [Note 1].
Given the emphasis of the encyclical on climate justice, It is ironic that Irish politicians have refused to accept modest amendments designed to make the bill an effective instrument to tackle Ireland’s contribution to adverse climate change impacts. It is particularly ironic, given the worldwide attention on climate justice, that the government vetoed an amendment to include mention of climate justice in the Bill as recently as last week. It is also regrettable that Ireland refuses to express in its legislation a target for greenhouse gas reduction as far away as 2050, a year that most other countries specify in their legislation.
The Pope’s message is highly relevant to Ireland. It is a reminder of the urgent and compelling need for courageous political leadership to see off short term powerful interest groups in putting in place a legislative regime that is not simply a minimalist effort. It is also a stark reminder that climate change mitigation should not simply involve an economist-centred approach, but one that reflects the global as well as local interests of climate justice.
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