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There is much to do to achieve goals of climate accord

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Registere

05/04/2016

Maybe Pope Francis got his wish.

On Earth Day, April 22, 175 world leaders signed the Paris Accord on climate change — a new one-day record for any international agreement. Fifteen countries immediately ratified it, making it law in those countries.

Justin Trudeau put his name on the Paris Accord, and committed to making the treaty binding on Canada by October of this year. Ratification will come with greenhouse gas emission targets and a plan for Canada to reach these goals.

When Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ last June his explicit, political purpose was to push rich nations such as Canada to agree to a substantial and enforceable plan to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Canada not only agreed to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, it has pledged $2.65 billion in development aid by 2020 to help poor countries cope with their changing climate.

“I give you our word that Canada’s efforts will not cease,” Trudeau said as he signed the accord in the United Nations assembly hall in New York. “Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will. But we are equal to that challenge.”

While that $2.65 billion Canadian aid commitment sounds very generous, Canada’s fair share of the $100 billion climate adjustment fund agreed to in Paris should be $4 billion, Equiterre co-founder Steven Guilbeault told a small gathering of Catholic environmental activists at the Loretto Sisters’ Mary Ward Centre in Toronto the evening before the New York signing ceremony.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace distributed 330,000 postcards in parishes across Canada last year. They gave Catholics the opportunity to pledge to reduce their own environmental footprint while demanding the Government of Canada do its part. Canada’s Catholic aid and development agency is still waiting to find out how many of those postcards reached the Prime Minister’s Office.

Although remarkable that 195 countries came to a consensus, Paris didn’t solve our climate problem.

“We’re only just beginning,” said Sister Linda Gregg, director of the Villa St. Joseph Retreat and Ecology Centre in Cobourg, Ont. “As a Catholic community, as a Christian community and as a global community we really need to address this.”

In Gregg’s view, governments, bankers and corporations will all play a part in bringing new technologies to bear, reducing our collective reliance on fossil fuels and recalibrating our economies away from wasteful overproduction. But that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook.

“We need to have parish groups that start to explore what Pope Francis is talking about,” she said. “We need to work in parishes to bring this wonderful document to life.”

For Pope Francis the goal is something more than avoiding environmental catastrophe. What the pope asks for goes beyond survival. He demands a more human, more just world. Laudato Si’ warns us against the sin of blindly holding on to all of our possessions and comforts even if it means robbing the poor and future generations.

“Our failures are that we over-consume and that we do not share the gifts of creation. This has dire consequences for the poor of the planet,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told a conference on Laudato Si’ in Lusaka, Zambia, April 25. “It is urgent that we change our sense of human progress, our management of the economy and our style of life. Such change is going to require major shifts in our thinking and commitments — indeed, a conversion of groups and institutions at every level, from local communities to global humanity.”

As you might expect, the pope talks about sin. But he doesn’t want us just to avoid sin. He wants us to embrace a fuller and more meaningful life — to shift our focus away from things and the personal independence we gain from our cars, our phones and our houses. Participation in creation, rather than using creation up as if it were a broken piggy bank, is what Pope Francis calls “integral ecology.”

Integral ecology might be a little too much to ask of our government or the United Nations. But it’s not too much to ask of ourselves as Christians, although there are hard choices involved in turning away from fossil fuels and the car-centred, consumerist lifestyle most of us have known all our lives.

Development and Peace has aligned with Quebec NGO Equiterre in opposing new pipelines that would get Alberta bitumen to refineries in New Brunswick, the United States and Asia. Even as unemployment soars in Alberta, Equiterre has persuaded more than 300 Quebec municipalities to officially oppose the Energy East pipeline project.

“It’s not because I don’t like people in Alberta,” said Guilbeault.

If Canada is going to turn away from oil and find a more sustainable path for its economy it has to start with turning off the taps to oil that is among the world’s dirtiest, he said.
“We will continue to use oil for some time,” said Guilbeault. “At least we should use less polluting oil.”

The American union-driven environmental group Blue-Green Alliance has studied the outcomes of different kinds of energy investment. The group claims that $1 million of investment in oil and gas produces two full-time, permanent jobs. The same $1 million directed to solar, wind and nuclear energy results in 15 jobs.

“We can produce jobs. We can be a prosperous society,” said Guilbeault. “If we invest in clean energy.”

This same debate about energy choices is tearing apart Canada’s New Democratic Party, where in Alberta, the only province governed by the NDP, there is anger over the Leap Manifesto, which calls for a radical rejection of Canada’s traditional resource-based economy.

“It’s not an NDP issue. It’s an issue for the Canadian federation,” said Guilbeault. “Do we continue to lock ourselves into a fossil fuels model of development?”

Trudeau told a Vancouver business crowd back in March that the choice isn’t quite so stark.

“We want the low-carbon economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all Canadians,” he said. “To get there, we need to make smart strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure, but we must also continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The Conservatives say the new Liberal government is being less than honest about the costs of getting to a low-carbon economy. Environment critic Ed Fast points to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s finding that cutting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent could cost the economy up to three per cent in GDP growth.

“The Liberals are misleading Canadians by saying everything is a win-win,” Fast said. “Fighting climate change is serious business and Canadians need to be prepared to have a frank discussion about who pays for it.”

So are the pipelines going to lock Canada into a high-carbon, oilsands-dependent economy or are they going to pay for a greener, cleaner future? Is the post-industrial, post-oil economy going to give us more good jobs or slow economic growth? These are political choices and economic choices. But it doesn’t end there, according to Pope Francis. He believes these are also questions for spiritual discernment.

“We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks,” wrote Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. “This is what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction. The work of the church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.”