Cancún: COP 16

Tomorrow, Nov 29th, COP16 starts in Cancún, Mexico. We will attempt to follow this event and to offer some reflections on the Ignatian Econnet blog. I will copy my own contributions to this blog also. My first blog contribution concerns the context of and the  hopes in view of the Cancún encounter.

I would like to highlight some of the important elements of the context, in which COP16 takes place. (1) The health bulletin of our planet and the threats to human and planetary life have worsened: we continue to deplete – and at an accelerated pace – the natural resources of our planet; CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere – the consequence of our lifestyles – are still increasing and heating up of the planet rapidly; biodiversity is suffering. (2) There is much less public interest with regard to the global environmental crisis than was the case at COP15 in Copenhagen. (3) From a political perspective, matters don’t seem to have improved. In my own country, rather than discussing the urgent matters at hand, the media focus on the quarrel between some of our ministers: who will take the pride to head the Belgian delegation at Cancún? Such discussions go on, while we now know that Belgium has one of the worst ecological footprints in the world. In the USA, the hope felt when Obama was elected, has now dissipated again. We cannot, therefore, expect serious moves from one of the main actors. Meanwhile, the so-called emerging countries (such as China, India, Russia and Brasil) are becoming more important, not only because they claim an ever growing share of the natural resources for their own development, but also because they begin to define their own environmental policies and because their voice at the international conference tables becomes more important. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily good news for the developping countries and the poor countries: they continue to be exploited for their resources and do not really acquire the necessary means and tools to adapt to global climate change. (4) There is growing awareness of the seriousness and urgency of the situation, as well as of the necessity of adaptation. This is exemplified by the viewpoint of a prestigious weekly as The Economist in its issue of Nov 27 to Dec 3, as well as in its The World in 2011. But it is painful to see that this growing awareness is often conceived of in the perspective of economic growth as we understand it today: those, who have the resources, will be able to adapt; adaptation will mainly result from private action, although public action will be necessary also; there may be some help for the poor, but, and I quote what I consider to be a highly cynical remark, “unfortunately, such adaptation has always meant large numbers of deaths”. There seems to be little understanding of the fact that the resources to adapt are limited. Analyses as the ecological footprint, show that these resources will, in the end, be available only to a very limited number of privileged people. I think, as I expressed it in another blog contribution, that there are serious shortcomings in this kind of approach, but it is still the way of thinking of many of us. (5) Scientific research on the complex reality of climate change as well as on historical precedents, is unfolding at a rapid pace, and it points to the seriousness of the situation. Moreover, the attacks on the integrity of climate scientists have been proven unfair, and one can only regret the time and energy that have been lost in these fights although the painful experiences have also made scientists more aware of the need to communicate clearly and efficiently their findings and insights. (6) There is a growing awareness of the role churches and religions can play, as is shown in the commitment of the World Council of Churches. Unfortunately, not very much has been done in fact and there is still a long way to go on the level of mobilizing people and energies. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church.

In this context arise new hopes. (1) It is very well possible that the lesser political profile of COP16 (as compared to COP15) will provide a direct context, in which it is more easy to reach the international agreements that are more necessary than ever. Moreover, the more important role played by the emerging countries may open new and creative avenues towards international collaboration and good governance. A main concern remains the question who will be advocating the case for the poor countries and countries in development. (2) Scientists are more than before in a position to play a prophetic role: their science is improving rapidly, they have learned to communicate better, and they also increasingly advocate for a voice that is insufficiently present at the table of negotiations, the voice of nature – this is a point clearly made by Michel Serres in his Le temps des crises. Indeed, all too often the voice of nature is not heard and, therefore, natural limits and constraints are insufficiently taken into account when we design economic and political approaches to the crisis. (3) The voice of young people in a context in which they are globally connected through the wordwide web, is becoming more important. They are a force to change mentalities and interpretations of the world and realities of the planet. This is also true of the voice of the indigenous people: their approaches to nature offer perspectives that can enrich the ways in which we situate ourselves in our world. (4) There is a need to re-think our economic models. The articles in The Economist show, I think, that there is a growing awareness of the seriousness of the crisis, but also that new economic models have to be developed, in which  sustainability, ecological footprint and limits are taken into account, and in which also the poorest of the people on our planet have a voice. A continuing emphasis on mitigation is necessary, although some think that the time for mitigation has passed by. Indeed, a one-sided emphasis on adaptation may wel be at risk to forget what mitigation states clearly: there are lifestyles that are responsible for this crisis and that will continue to aggravate it. The accent on mitigation helps us to pay attention to lifestyles that are not without consequences on the lives of the poor and on nature and the life of the planet.  (5) There is opportunity for religions and churches to speak with clear voice and to become more aware of the constructive and creative role they can play, particularly when they find ways to collaborate. For Christians, and particularly for Roman Catholics who belong to a well organised international network, the task is not only an ethical one about social and international justice. It also entails a re-thinking of theologies and worldviews in the form of a creation theology that is capable of viewing the world and the universe as a connected whole in space and time, of which human beings form a special part, as they are capable, as a part of creation, to voice creation’s self-reflection and spiritual search. Moreover, structurally speaking, as a complex international organisation with a presence at levels of political advocacy, media, research, education and in the field, the Roman Catholic Church offers opportunities to efficiently address a crisis at an international level.

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