Just in the last couple of weeks bishops’ conferences from across the world have signed a rare joint statement urging political leaders to solve climate change.

The bishops’ call is clear:

We call for ambitious and immediate action to be taken in order to tackle and overcome the devastating effects of the climate crisis. These actions need to be taken by the international community at all levels: by persons, communities, cities, regions, nations.

The bishops’ statement is aimed at world leaders who are preparing for a UN climate summit in Poland this December – the COP24 meeting at Katowice.

I love my planet motifThe main purpose of this meeting is to agree the rules around the Treaty formulated at the 2015 meeting. It’s not exciting stuff to read – but it is crucial to making the Paris Treaty effective in terms of mitigating the effects of Climate Change. As Jan Pietrowski recently put it in the Economist, “The treaty left important elements deliberately vague. It did not, for instance, spell out what climate commitments by individual countries are admissible, how to report these “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) or who should review them. This was necessary to get everyone on board. Developing countries would have balked at being held to rich-world standards; developed Ones would have objected to guidelines so lax as to let big polluters like China or India off the hook just because they are poor.
So why are the bishops and other religious groups getting involved? One of these is the Franciscan missionaries. They explain their reasoning for becoming involved on their website:
It’s relevant to the Franciscans to participate in COP in any way possible. Firstly, because COP is the only space where the negotiation on the solutions to the climate crisis by the governmental delegates actually happens, and the ethical dimension must be emphasized in the solutions. Franciscans can collaborate with other inter-faith groups and NGOs especially in this respect. Secondly, such movement can be the sign and the example to raise awareness in the Church, since the ecological dimension of the (Sic) Christian conversion is not yet the famous subject in the Christian community itself. The Franciscan presence in the COP can give testimony to the vision of St. Francis to the world. Thirdly, COP is an exceptional place where one can listen to the powerful testimonies of the most vulnerable in the world, various activists, and experts, and have a dialogue with them. They are the victims of the social and ecological crisis as well as the prophets of our time. Just like the encounter with the Christ in a leper has changed the life of St. Francis, it’s critical for the Franciscans to be touched by those who are affected by the systematic injustice.

The two key tasks for the COP24 Katowice talks are the finalisation of the “implementation guidelines” of the Paris Agreement and to conclude the Talanoa Dialogue.

The Implementation Guidelines will put the Paris Agreement into practice and establish how each country will present country plans, review their commitments and implementation of actions, and assess whether governments are collectively on track for the Paris Agreement goals. This will move countries from ‘fluffy’ statements to concrete actions – along the lines of ‘what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done’.

The Talanoa Dialogue is a shared effort by governments that is assessing the collective level of climate action in light of the 1.5°C warming
limit they agreed in Paris. The hope is that this gap assessment will spur more ambitious mitigation plans. COP24 could be a turning point from where focus shifts towards implementing actions on the ground.

The conference takes place from Monday 03 December through to Friday 14 December. As always, there are optimists and pessimists about what the outcome may be. What can we do at this point in time? Prayer is an obvious choice – and it would be good to have the conference remembered in the intercessionary prayers on the Sundays around the conference time. Neither would it do any harm to write to Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, to remind him of the strength of feeling about this issue amongst the Catholic community.