VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Pope Francis visits Dubai in the United Arab Emirates Dec. 1-3 to address the opening of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, he will be the first pope ever to attend one of the global gatherings that began in 1995.
The visit marks yet another unique effort by this pope who — in honor of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi — has made caring for creation a hallmark of his pontificate and has repeatedly reminded people that actions speak louder than words.
His presence, anticipated speech and private bilateral meetings at the 28th conference, known as COP28, will add further strength to his many urgent appeals that nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition swiftly to clean energy sources and compensate countries already harmed by the effects of climate change.
“We must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes,” he wrote this year in Laudate Deum (“Praise God”), a follow-up document to his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si‘, On Care for Our Common Home.”
Stronger critique of global inaction
Pope Francis had timed the release of his 2015 encyclical on humanity’s responsibility to care for creation to coincide with final preparations for the COP21 conference in Paris. And a number of experts believe that document had a deep impact on the successful adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement, a binding agreement for nations to fight climate change and mitigate its effects.
The pope, likewise, timed the release of “Laudate Deum,” which presented an even stronger critique of global inaction and indifference, ahead of the climate conference in Dubai, saying the meeting “can represent a change of direction, showing that everything done since 1992 (with the adoption of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change) was in fact serious and worth the effort, or else it will be a great disappointment and jeopardize whatever good has been achieved thus far.”
Organizations push for global action
Some Catholic advocacy organizations that have been pushing for global action for years believe the pope’s participation at COP28 is going to help convince leaders to make stronger commitments.
Lindlyn Moma, advocacy director of the Laudato Si‘ Movement, told Catholic News Service Nov. 20, that “Pope Francis really recognizes that we are in a climate crisis and he is going to COP to make sure that everyone hears this message,” which is the same message in “Laudato Si‘” eight years ago, but “not enough people have heeded to that call.”
What needs to be done at COP28, Moma said, is “an agreement that is very clear on the phase out of fossil fuels.”
The intergovernmental International Energy Agency “has released countless reports since two years ago saying that we can have no more investments in oil and gas, in any fossil fuels, if we need to meet the targets of remaining at 1.5 degrees, which by the way, is being threatened,” she said. The Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
COP28 in Dubai could mark a watershed moment for some kind of promise to end fossil fuel exploration and expansion, and to phase out existing production.
The United Arab Emirates is a major producer and exporter of oil, producing at least 4 million barrels per day. The president-designate of COP28 is Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, who wears multiple hats: UAE minister for industry and advanced technology; its special envoy for climate; chairman of the renewable energy company, Masdar; and group CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
Al-Jaber met with the pope Oct. 11, just one week after “Laudate Deum” was released with its pointed mention that “gas and oil companies are planning new projects” in the UAE, and its clear call for “decisive acceleration” in transitioning to clean energy sources.
“The fact that (al-Jaber) went to meet him, immediately after ‘Laudate Deum‘ was released, it really says that his message came out strong and clear,” Moma said.
Vatican News reported that during that visit, al-Jaber expressed the United Arab Emirates’ appreciation for Pope Francis’ “unwavering advocacy for positive climate change to advance human progress,” and they discussed the crucial role faith communities can play in addressing climate change.
Interfaith ‘Faith Pavilion’
COP28 will co-host a “Faith Pavilion,” which Pope Francis will help inaugurate on Dec. 3. It is the first-ever pavilion of its kind at a COP event and will host events Nov. 30-Dec. 12 with religious leaders, faith-based organizations, scientists, political leaders, youths and Indigenous people.
The pavilion will also showcase the “Abu Dhabi Interfaith Statement for COP28,” which was signed by 28 faith leaders, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, at the end of a special summit there Nov. 6-7.
The statement called for “inclusive dialogue, during and beyond COPs, with faith leaders, vulnerable groups, youth, women’s organizations and the scientific community to forge alliances that strengthen sustainable development,” and it “demands transformative action to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach and serve affected and vulnerable communities.”
Pope Francis and Egyptian Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, are expected to sign the same statement at the COP28 summit.
“The interfaith pavilion at COP28 signifies the recognition of the crucial role that religious communities can play in addressing climate change,” Musamba Mubanga told CNS. She is Caritas Internationalis’ senior advocacy officer for food security and climate change and will be part of the Holy See delegation at COP28.
“This inclusive approach acknowledges the multifaceted nature of climate challenges, incorporating ethical, moral and cultural considerations alongside scientific and political dimensions,” she said.
And, she added, the hope is that “this collaboration will translate into tangible actions, motivating parties to adopt climate-conscious actions and contribute actively to climate change mitigation.”
Pope Francis made his hopes for COP28 clear in “Laudate Deum“: “May those taking part in the conference be strategists capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses. In this way, may they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame.”