Vatican Secretary of  State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. 

Cardinal Parolin: COP26 must affirm centrality of multilateralism and action

More than 30,000 delegates will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12 for the 26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26). "We have the means and resources for a change of course," says Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in an interview with Vatican Media.

By Vatican News

The 26th UN Conference on Climate Change, or COP26, will be the biggest international summit the United Kingdom has ever hosted. More than 30,000 delegates, almost 200 world leaders as well as climate experts and activists are coming together to update plans for reducing emissions in order to combat global warming.

On 26 October, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for concrete action to protect the planet.  “We are still on track for climate catastrophe,” he warned, commenting on the 2021 Emission Gap Report. “The era of half measures and hollow promises must end.  The time for closing the leadership gap must begin in Glasgow.”  

Pope Francis, in an audio-video message to the BBC in view of the COP26 summit, called for "radical choices" to get humanity out of the many transverse and interconnected crises that it is going through.


Cardinal Pietro Parolin who is heading the Holy See's delegation to Glasgow, spoke to Vatican Media on the eve of the crucial summit:

Your Eminence, COP26, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, is about to take place.  What are the concerns motivating the presence of the Holy See?

COP26 is the first Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change to take place after the spread of Covid-19.  It is also the Conference charged with ratifying the concrete means for implementing the commitments undertaken by the 2015 Paris Agreement.  We know how complex and uncertain the process of its effective implementation has proved to be, not least as a result of the pandemic.  True, we have seen the beginning of a process of transition to a model of development free of technologies and behaviours that affect greenhouse gas emissions.  But the main question is how swift this process of transition will be, and whether it can respect the timetable dictated by science.  It is the Holy See’s hope that COP26 will reaffirm the centrality of multilateralism and of action, also with regard to the so-called non-state actors.  Given the slow progress made so far, the Glasgow Conference will prove quite important, for it will measure and motivate the collective will and the level of ambition of individual states.

The previous Conference in Madrid concluded by calling for “more ambitious efforts”.  You have described this as “a cultural challenge”.  What is next?

We are living at a significant time in our history.  The responses to Covid-19 and to climate change can really fulfil the hope expressed by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.  There he stated that “although the postindustrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities”.  So, we really are speaking of a cultural challenge to promote the common good and a change of outlook that will set human dignity at the centre of every action.  Global and cross-sectoral phenomena like the pandemic and climate change have increasingly shown the need for the change of direction called for by Pope Francis, based on the awareness that we all must work together to strengthen the covenant between human beings and the natural environment, with particular concern for the most vulnerable peoples.

In the Encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis supports an integral ecology, in which care for creation, concern for the poor, social commitment and peace efforts are inseparable.  What are the most urgent needs?

By now, it is evident that environmental decay and social decay are deeply interrelated.  This is a key concept of integral ecology: “peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”.  So it is important that COP26 provide a clear collective response, not only in promoting efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change on the part of all countries but also in helping the most vulnerable countries to confront the loss and damage that climate change caused.  Tragically, these are already a reality in many contexts.

The Pope constantly urges the adoption of behaviours and actions modelled on interdependence and co-responsibility in a world in which “everything is connected”, yet the goals for reducing pollution and for eco-sustainability laid down in the 2015 Paris Agreement seem still far from realization.  What are the paths to pursue?

During the meeting with religious leaders and scientists last 4 October to sign a Joint Appeal to COP26, the Holy Father emphasized the importance of adopting a mindset geared to interdependence and sharing.  “We cannot act alone”, he said, “for each of us is fundamentally responsible to care for one another and for the environment.  This commitment should lead to an urgently needed change of direction, fostered also by our respective religious beliefs and spirituality … a commitment constantly driven by the dynamism of love” renewed daily.  This is a genuine challenge; it means combatting the “throwaway culture” which is prevalent in our society and is nurtured by what the Joint Appeal calls “the seeds of conflicts: greed, indifference, ignorance, fear, injustice, insecurity and violence”.  The way to achieve the goals of eco-sustainability and to combat social and environmental decay must start from this awareness of our need to pass from a “throwaway culture” to a “culture of care”.  This is the only path towards effectively implementing the contents of the Paris Agreement.

The Holy Father, in speaking of what he has called the “ecological transition” we are presently experiencing, has spoken of an “obligation to turn”, inspired by the hope that “we can always change direction”.  What can we concretely expect from this United Nations Conference?  

The most recent data provided by the various international scientific agencies are certainly not encouraging with regard to the efforts of the international community to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.  This shows the difficulties involved in making this change of direction, but it also indicates even more clearly its urgency.  We have the means and the resources to make this change of direction; what still appears lacking is a clear political will.  Such a change of direction must involve everyone; no one can hold back or fail to make a conscientious commitment in the face of this great challenge.  Young people are the first to recognize this.  In the words of the Appeal signed by the religious leaders: “We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children”.  COP26 represents an important occasion for affirming concretely how we intend to accomplish precisely that.

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30 October 2021, 14:30