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Faiths bring authority to bear on climate

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The Interim Director of WorldFish, Essam Yassin Mohammed, speaks at COP27. WorldFish is an international, non-profit research and innovation organisation working in the area of sustainable aquaculture and fisheries to reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty across Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Photo by Aniss Khalid, WorldFish/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Interim Director of WorldFish, Essam Yassin Mohammed, speaks at COP27. WorldFish is an international, non-profit research and innovation organisation working in the area of sustainable aquaculture and fisheries to reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty across Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Photo by Aniss Khalid, WorldFish/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Faith leaders are playing an increasingly important role in the global climate change movement, with the major achievement of the COP27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, coming after a targeted interfaith intervention on its penultimate day.

Despite worries that COP27 would conclude with few firm commitments, developed countries agreed to a “loss and damage” fund in the early hours of Sunday, 20 November. 

The fund will assist countries vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change, especially relevant for Oceania where Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and other nations are already struggling to adapt to rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

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Catholic delegates, including the Holy See in its first official intervention as a part to COP, played an indispensable role in securing the fund and advocating for Pacific nations.

Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin both encouraged delegates and negotiators to push for more ambitious outcomes.

And more than 60 faith leaders joined forces to issue an “ultimatum” letter on 17 November calling for the “loss and damage” fund to be established. 

“A failure to reach the critical decisions—such as on the loss and damage facility, doubling adaptation finance and tracking where the money is coming from, who is making good on their commitments—will betray the most marginalised,” the letter read.

The establishment of the fund was the main achievement of an otherwise frustrating conference, advocates say.

A farmworker sits on a water tank as he supplies his livestock with water at a drought-stricken farm outside Utrecht, South Africa. Photo: CNS/Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters

“There was widespread pessimism that this COP would achieve anything in this area,” Damian Spruce, Advocacy Associate Director of Caritas Australia, told The Catholic Weekly by email from Egypt. 

“But after strong interventions by Pacific and African delegates, supported by Catholic actors and a strong statement from the EU in the final days of negotiations, an important decision was taken to establish a fund.”

Mr Spruce said the faith leaders’ intervention was “timely and effective” and put much-needed pressure on the negotiators.

“Deploying the moral authority of faith in these circumstances can push discussions that have been stuck in established positions into new possibilities, and with the unexpected success on ‘loss and damage’ we saw the fruits of this approach in the final COP decision,” he said.

Faith leaders also organised a pilgrimage on the first Saturday of the conference that, combined with a civil society march, helped to “amplify the voices of those hardest hit by climate change around the world.”

Caritas Australia and Caritas Oceania presented their recent Twin Clouds report on the ongoing effects of climate change in the Pacific and the barriers to accessing finance for debt relief and adaptation.

Mr Spruce told The Catholic Weekly that Caritas Australia was an advocate for the Pacific nations’ delegations, assisting them to secure meetings with key negotiators including the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate, Senator John Kerry. 

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