Bishops: Climate is not just a Pope Francis issue

William Patenaude

Did you hear the big news?

Last week, the presidents of the continental Associations of Bishops’ Conferences — including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — issued a dramatic appeal to international negotiators who will be working on a climate treaty in Paris this December. Stressing the importance of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, the episcopal signatories said they wish to “join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all.” For the 21st year in a row, 196 nations — known as the “Conference of Parties,” or “COP” — will be meeting on an agreement by which the world’s nations will reduce carbon loadings and find ways to help those who have been impacted by a warming climate.

While it’s anyone’s guess what the final effect of this appeal will be on negotiations, there are already significant implications for how Catholics look at climate change and how we should all approach the upcoming United Nations talks in Paris.

Here are five takeaways from the bishops’ appeal.

1. Climate is not just a Pope Francis issue
The conversation around the Catholic engagement of climate change has of late been focused on the intervention of Pope Francis (and his predecessors), both before and with Laudato Si’. But it’s now known that these climate concerns are those of the wider magisterium. And that means this message should be becoming part of diocesan and parish life around the globe.

2. The continents are in sync
Unity among the Successors of the Apostles — and among the continental churches — seemed uncertain at times during the Synod on the Family— even after a consensus document was approved.

There has also been worry of growing divides on ecological issues between the churches of the Global North and South.
But the climate appeal shows important alignment among the bishops of the South and North on an issue that often strains relations along such national and economic divisions.

3. The bishops support of decarbonization
In other words, they’re asking for a future without fossil fuels — or at least an over-reliance on them. This will make for no small addition to international and intranational conversations. The goal of completely restructuring the world’s energy sources, based on moral and scientific expectations, is no small request. But it is doable.
It’s also a goal that can profit individuals and companies willing to think outside the box.

4. The bishops link their appeal to maximum temperature rises
This one has people talking—and debating a little, too.
Here the bishops ask for an agreement that limits “global temperature increase to within those parameters currently suggested from within the global scientific community.”

Some in the Catholic ecosphere wanted to see a particular temperature fixed to the appeal’s goals. A maximum temperature increase from manmade sources of no more than 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels is supported by many, based on what we know about how the world is impacted by rising global average temperatures.
But the lack of a particular temperature cited is not a problem. Not for this sort of game-changing, high-level ecclesial document. In fact, we should be thankful that there’s room to stick to the numbers that scientific consensus tells us.

5. The bishops end their appeal with prayer
In doing so, the bishops remind the world of what the Church exists to offer: the grace of the Triune God that is love.
This should remind us that our human efforts will come to naught — or worse — without offering them first to God — without aligning them to His will. After all, for God, all things are possible. (Mt 19:26)
Now that’s a message that I wish the international community would listen to.

William Patenaude, M.A., KHS, is an engineer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and is a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He is a parishioner of Saints Rose and Clement Parish, Warwick, and writes at