Op-ed by his Eminence Fridolin Besungu Cardinal Ambongo, Archbishop of Kinshasa and the Vice-President of SECAM and President of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (SECAM).
Note: This op-ed was originally published by Euractiv on November 8, 2022.
Climate change is currently spreading rapidly, and intensifying, and some trends are irreversible, according to the IPCC’s WI contribution of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). African voices from church and civil society demand climate justice in one of the most vulnerable continents to increasing climate impacts as COP27 starts in Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt). The Catholic church in Africa hopes that the EU would lead in raising climate ambition and action ensuring that the international climate talks are held with the best interest of all living beings and our Common Home at heart. Like Pope Francis recently said, COP27 “represents the next opportunity for all to join in promoting the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement.”
His Eminence Fridolin Besungu Cardinal Ambongo is the Archbishop of Kinshasa and the Vice-President of SECAM and President of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission (SECAM).
While Europe recently has also experienced climate change consequences such as sudden droughts and floods, the climate crisis has been a lived reality for people across Africa for way too long. Recent summer heatwaves in the north of the continent have caused massive social and economic losses and damages, breaking temperature records and severely disrupting agri-food systems in an already hungry region. Storms and cyclones early in the year caused devastation in Southern Africa and in Madagascar, resulting in the destruction of homes and the loss of lives. Eastern Africa is facing the worst food crisis in a generation, precipitated by extreme drought. In West Africa, cities are flooded, communities in the creeks are submerged, conflicts which have simmered for years are now intensifying due to climate-induced displacement. Climate change impedes on Africa’s development, in a context already struggling due to an unjust global economic system.
Equally important, the Congo Basin, known as the “lungs of Africa”, is absorbing more carbon than the Amazon. 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions are absorbed by the Republic of Congo alone. Six countries share its rainforest, providing food security and essential livelihoods to indigenous and local populations and sustaining endangered species. Africa’s future, as well as the world’s, depends on preserving the Congo Basin forests. The Congo Basin forests must be preserved for the sake of the future of not only Africa, but the world in general. To combat climate change and biodiversity loss, we must preserve this rich and lush ecosystem, which is increasingly being threatened by deforestation, environmental degradation, and worsening climate change impacts.
In these days, world leaders are making their way to Africa to attend the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – otherwise known as COP27. All people of God, wherever they are in the world, must surely agree that this conference must deliver for Africa. There is no doubt that the EU and more generally the Global North has a great responsibility in this regard as one of the major contributors to the climate crisis and must contribute their fair share to address it. Progressive EU Member States should use this moment to step up their climate action and support for vulnerable countries by pushing for the highest ambition level for the EU by 2030. They should be leading the way in emissions reductions, providing funding for climate adaptation, loss and damage, and supporting countries in the Global South to achieve just levels of development within planetary boundaries. We know that the most promising solutions will reflect key principles of Catholic Social Teaching, such as the common good, social justice between generations, care for our common home and the preferential option for the poor. The solutions to this crisis must not continue the business-as-usual approach that is responsible for creating the problem in the first place and will only enrich wealthy nations and individuals at the expense of the world’s poor.
And yet, in the face of these certainties, it can still be challenging to understand the precise routes to change. In the latest Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis proposed dialogue and encounter as a means of building a more just world (n°199,203). This was the inspiration for the African Climate Dialogues – a series of conversations hosted by Catholic Church actors and civil society in Africa to discuss, learn from each other and identify key policy priorities ahead of COP27 in Egypt. These dialogues included community and civil society representatives with lived experiences of climate change, researchers and professional advocates with policy expertise, officials from all levels of government, and leaders in the Catholic Church who could frame the pressing ethical questions raised by climate change in terms of the action of God and the demands of justice.
On 17th October, I was proud to launch a communiqué from the African Climate Dialogues process, alongside leaders from youth movements, NGOs and Governments representing Africa at COP27. This document serves as a road-map for action at COP27 on the key topics of appropriate solutions, climate finance, migration and displacement, food systems and loss and damage. It sets out demands for the conference, informed by practitioners, communities and experts in light of theological reflection on the sacred scriptures. I will travel to Sharm El Sheikh to bring these cries for action to the negotiating table, and to show that the Church in Africa is standing up for communities already suffering from climate change in my continent.
Climate change is a moral outrage. It is a tragic and striking example of structural sin (St John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, n°36), facilitated by callous indifference and selfish greed. The climate crisis is leading to the destruction of our planet, the devastation of the lives of the poor, and the detriment of future generations. We church leaders and civil society organisations in Africa and beyond demand from EU decision-makers, world leaders, and business leaders to heed to this important communiqué, in so doing, heed to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.
Press conference: ‘launch of Africa Climate Dialogues Communique’.
More information about the African Climate Dialogues and a copy of the communiqué can be accessed here.
Additional reading: No climate justice without land justice, statement by the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of SECAM (FR).
Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa.
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