The Pope visits the UK: Why we should all follow his lead in tackling climate change By Paul Brummell, British High Commissioner to Barbados
The UK Government is honoured that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Britain next week. It is the first Papal visit since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982. It will be particularly special for the UK’s six million Catholics; many of whom will take the opportunity to pray with the Pope in England and Scotland.
And we are looking forward to welcoming His Holiness to the UK, taking this opportunity to strengthen our long standing bilateral relationship and discussing how we can tackle some of the most important global issues that the world faces; including the twin challenges of poverty and climate change.
We want to hear what the Pope has to say. The experience of the Catholic Church – as well as other faith based organisations – in helping to deliver basic healthcare and education services for those who need it most, means that it has a close personal insight into the connections between poverty and climate change.
Across the world climate change is having a profound impact on human rights to life, food, health and development. A rise in global temperature and increased drought undermines peoples’ ability to live sustainably on land they have farmed all their lives or to move themselves out of poverty. The impacts of climate change are already clearly visible here in the Caribbean; for example in the increased frequency of hurricanes, the spread of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, and the bleaching of coral reefs.
The Pope’s visit to the UK is a chance for reflection on this potential tragedy, but also on how we can prevent it.
Immediately following the Papal visit, political leaders will come together in New York to drive progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Achieving them will mean millions more children getting an education, stopping the deadly spread of malaria and the scandal of preventable deaths in childbirth being addressed.
The UK has joined Pope Benedict in calling for collective international action to ensure that we meet the goals by 2015.
The UK Government’s priorities will be around maternal health and malaria. These are areas where Catholic and other faith-based organisations can play a major role, through providing more effective malaria treatment or training more skilled health workers to attend to the needs of mothers before, during and after childbirth.
But climate change threatens both the achievement and sustainability of these goals.
If we are to halve global poverty by 2015 then we need to see global commitments translated into action. Before the international climate change conference in Cancun, nations must renew their commitment to achieving an ambitious global deal to limiting the rise of the global temperature by two degrees; a vital target in the fight against dangerous climate change and global poverty.
Pope Benedict is clear that leaders of both developed and developing countries have a responsibility to work constructively to reduce carbon emissions and find new ways to satisfy the energy needs of present and future generations.
He also challenges us to consider the relationship between climate change and peace; reminding us that we cannot remain passive in the face of conflicts provoked by mass migration from those unable to live off their land and increased competition to natural resources. He warns us, ‘if you want to cultivate peace, protect creation’.
Pope Benedict’s appeal is for each of us to recognise a moral and spiritual obligation to take responsibility for ourselves and reassess our personal impact on the environment. The Pope has made clear that we cannot wait for international politicians to reach agreement nor can we expect technology to resolve all our problems.
The Vatican has shown inspiring leadership in seeking to become the world’s first carbon neutral state. Turning aspiration into action it is installing solar panels on Vatican buildings, planting forests and has recently announced plans to build Europe’s largest solar farm on 740 hectares to the north of Rome – which will produce enough clean energy to power over 40,000 homes.
The UK Government believes that by translating faith into action the Pope has set an excellent example for all those who look to their faith for guidance in living their lives. And if the many millions of people who belong to the Catholic Church can follow the example of Pope Benedict then they can make a vital contribution to tackling climate change and therefore helping to alleviate poverty.