Cardinal O’Brien issues warning to politicians on eve of crucial climate talks in New York
BY MARK GREAVES
CARDINAL KEITH O’Brien has urged world leaders meeting for a high-level UN summit to put aside “political wrangling” and act seriously to tackle climate change.
The cardinal, who led a delegation of bishops and climate experts to the summit this week, said wealthy nations had an “unequivocal moral obligation to address the problems their actions have created”.
He said: “Global warming is too important an issue for political wrangling and shortterm national interest.
“Leaders should be getting down to serious negotiations for the sake of all humanity. Instead, we are seeing political disagreements and a lack of commitment.
“The lives of millions of people in the developing world, who have done least to cause the problem, are at stake.” His comments followed a homily in New York in which he quoted Martin Luther King in support of urgent climate action.
Quoting the Civil Rights leader, he said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” The cardinal added: “It is the ‘fierce urgency of now’ that brings us to New York this week.” But he said government efforts to combat global warming were “ponderous” compared with the huge resources spent on saving the world’s banks.
“Our society seems to have become immune to what is urgent. When banks go bust, as they did in your country and mine last year, governments seem able to mobilise extraordinary energy and efforts as well as unconscionably large sums of money to bail them out.
“This response stands in stark contrast to the ponderous efforts to address poverty and climate change.” In his homily the cardinal cited the example of disciples on the road to Capernaum arguing about who was greatest.
He said: “We must not be so wrapped up in a concern for our status nor so obsessed with our security and wellbeing that we do not notice the plight of others around us.
“The fierce urgency now defined by the scandalous waste of life in poor countries and the damage which our way of life has wrought to our natural world demand a new understanding and a renewed reverence for the holiness of the planet.” The cardinal pointed to UN estimates that 262 million people had been affected by climate-related disasters between 2000 and 2004.
He spoke about meeting struggling farmers in India, teachers from Tanzania worried about the consequences of the shrinking ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro, and a young man in Burma whose wife and son had been killed in Cyclone Nargis. He said: “We are here to ensure the voices of the poorest and most marginalised people are heard.” His homily, delivered at a Mass at the UN’s Church of the Holy Name parish, came the day before the summit was due to start.
Chaired by US President Barack Obama, and attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon as well as many of the world’s heads of state, the summit was part of a series of talks to establish a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It was seen as the final opportunity to build momentum towards a comprehensive climate change deal in Copenhagen in December.
The cardinal’s 15-member delegation was assembled by CIDSE, a Brussels-based alliance of Catholic development agencies, and Caritas Internationalis, the world’s largest network of Catholic charities. Last week Cardinal O’Brien urged the heads of state from the developed world to show leadership. He said: “Wealthy nations bear the greatest responsibility for creating this problem because of their large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases, which result from the burning of fossil fuels to generate economic wealth.
“During my meetings I will be calling on all heads of states from wealthy industrialised nations to show the moral and political leadership that is urgently needed.” He said that during his meetings he would point to the example set by Scotland, which has promised a 42 per cent cut in its emissions by 2020, rising to 80 per cent by 2050, to show that “it is possible to take the urgent political action necessary to head off the worst effects of climate change”.
On Tuesday the aviation industry, represented by the British Airways chief Willie Walsh, promised to halve its emissions by 2050.
The move, which will cause air fares to rise, was seen as an attempt to preempt efforts to impose higher taxes on the industry.
On Tuesday Chinese president, Hu Jintao, would break the deadlock in negotiations by announcing plans to cut China’s emissions.
Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said on Tuesday that he was haunted by the possibility that a climate change agreement may not be reached at Copenhagen.
Writing in the Guardian he said: “The fate of every nation on earth hangs on the outcome of Copenhagen. It is too important to play the cards-close-to-your-chest poker games that marked diplomacy of the 20th century.” Other bishops in the delegation included Archbishop John Onaiyekan from Nigeria, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini from Guatemala and Bishop Theotonius Gomes from Bangladesh.