When I set foot in Paris last Friday, after a pilgrimage of 1,500 kilometers starting from Rome and passing across Italy, Switzerland and France, I felt a renewed sense of energy and passion for the climate justice cause. As we arrived in Paris, I had the honor and humbling moment of being able to retire the pilgrim shoes I wore on this journey beside Pope Francis' pair of shoes at Place de la Republique in the center of Paris.
The fight for climate justice lives on and every step counts. Many other pilgrims arrived in Paris at the same time as me. Some of them walked with me, others came from different starting points in Europe, but we all, along the journey, met people concerned by climate change and its consequences.
Warmed by the welcome of many civil society grass-roots organizations along the way, we felt we are not alone in our battle. We felt the strength of the many committed people who are pleading for a fair and just climate deal. Before my walk in Europe, I traveled across Asia to explore some of the global hotspots at the heart of the climate crisis, places that also showcase compelling examples of climate leadership, solutions and climate resilience.
Motivating each of my steps, and words I always keep in my heart, is the mind-opening encyclical Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis. With its revolutionary and bold statements, it calls for environmental justice, and for each of us to care for our creation in our daily actions and choices. Laudato Si’ is an immense source of inspiration, but among its biggest innovation is the call to make moral obligation a part of the climate discourse. Protecting and respecting the climate becomes, thanks to the pope’s reflections in Laudato Si’, everyone’s duty and obligation. All the inhabitants of the earth have the same rights to access natural resources, and to thrive in a safe and resourceful environment.
The ethical and moral element, thanks also to the commitment of faith-based NGOs such as CIDSE who have worked hard for the messages of the encyclical to be heard and taken into account by the negotiators, has positively shaped climate change debates this year. Other faiths have also issued declarations and statements — the Islamic declaration for climate is one of them. These calls were helpful in reinforcing the message of solidarity and living in balance and harmony with creation which should guide the climate negotiations.
Having worked as a leading negotiator for my country, the Philippines, I am sadly aware that morality is not often present in the climate negotiation processes. Parties seem too often to forget that climate related choices have real consequences on people’s lives. Furthermore such consequences are not felt equally in the different parts of the world, and often countries that do not contribute to climate change are heavily affected by the lack of climate justice. The Philippines is one of them.
My country is one of the most affected by natural disasters in the world, particularly typhoons, which strike 20 times a year on average. The archipelago has experienced an increase in the strength of such natural events, and although scientists ask for a careful analysis, many have noted that climate change has to a certain extent affected the ferocity and frequency of these storms. The 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, was one of the strongest and deadliest storms ever recorded in this region, and it affected the lives of 12 million people. In a country where about 75 percent of the people depend on agriculture to live, the consequences were devastating as crops were destroyed and water resources contaminated.
This is an example of the contradictions inherent in climate change which mean that many low income countries such as the Philippines feel the repercussions of climate change and pollution, despite producing amongst the fewest emissions.
At the opening of COP21, my hope is that some of these contradictions will be solved and that richer countries will put in place mechanisms to pay their “ecological debt.” If the ethical and moral dimension of climate justice surfaces throughout the negotiations, my hopes may come true.
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