An activist outside the venue in Glasgow where the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference is taking place An activist outside the venue in Glasgow where the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference is taking place 

COP26: Pope’s call for ecological conversion rooted in common good

Nicholas Fitzpatrick of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development talks about the contribution of Pope Francis and of other religious leaders at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference.

By Linda Bordoni

Working with the team supporting and informing the Holy See’s Delegation to COP26 is Nicholas Fitzpatrick, a social-ecological economist and Ph.D. candidate at Nova University in Lisbon. He is currently collaborating with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and explains that the Dicastery team heads to Glasgow in the wake of the 4 October Meeting in which Pope Francis and other religious leaders signed a joint appeal calling for COP26 signatory nations to offer concrete solutions to save the planet from “an unprecedented ecological crisis.”


3 main points

That appeal and a series of documents produced in that circumstance reveal what the Vatican and other religions are expecting or hoping for, Fitzpatrick explained, summing up those expectations in three main points:

The first, he said: “We need to maintain a view of the 1.5° C targets, which is written in the Paris Agreement, Art.  2.2, as opposed to 2°C which is the upper limit”, and we know that every tenth of a degree matters.

“The second is that within the Paris Agreement there is an obligation of high-income Nations (…), they have to provide finance and assists low to middle-income countries with their ecological transition, he explained, adding that this could include access to technology, the sharing of knowledge or expertise, nationally and internationally.

Fitzpatrick said there is also a recognition that “historical responsibility plays a large part in climate breakdown: since 1850, 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions were caused by high-income countries, 40% of which comes from the United States, 29% comes from the European Union member states, around 10% comes from the rest of European countries, with the remaining coming from other high-income nations such as Japan and Australia.” So, he added, if we are really serious about talking about justice and sustainability, “these countries need to provide reparations their ecological damage.”

Listen to the interview with Nicholas Fitzpatrick

He noted that Pope Francis recognises and often calls for the need to repay this ecological debt: “He is partly referring to this carbon debt in the form of emissions”, but he says it also has to do with “resource debts, climate debts, and climate debts.”

The final point, he said, is that in all this “We need to guarantee a just ecological transition,” and to do this we need to end fossil fuel use, never forgetting that many people’s jobs depend on fossil fuels and their associated industries.

Whilst the ultimate goal is to end fossil fuel use, he said, a just ecological transition also means providing alternative options for those whose livelihoods may be at risk.

The solution cannot be "business as usual"

Answering a question regarding how realistic he thinks this objective actually is, Fitzpatrick said we really have to understand that “the only unrealistic solution is business as usual.”

He explained that we know we know current industrial trends have exacerbated inequalities within and between countries, and that emissions have risen steadily notwithstanding increased awareness at an institutional level when in 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first assessment report, and in 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which is the body that holds COP26 – was established.

Since then, he said, emissions have actually risen 60%, but if you look at the absolute, emissions have actually increased fourfold. This highlights the fact that international conventions such as the COPs haven’t historically been places where “international targets and lowering emissions have come to fruition”, but they are where “power and policy come together.”

Integral ecology

The Agreement hoped for in Glasgow rests on the crucial 2015 Paris Agreement. During that Conference Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato sì, On Care for Our Common Home provided food for thought and moral and ethical directives. Fitzpatrick expressed his belief that the Pope’s moral authority, as well as the voices of faith-based groups and other religious leaders, are crucial:

“We need to build a narrative that is encompassing of many different walks of life, and we need to be walking towards one target and that is integral ecology.”

He reiterated that we have had the scientific facts about climate change and global warming for decades now, do it's quite obvious that they are not enough, because if they were and “you and I cared about justice and sustainability, we would significantly reduce our consumption: we would give up flying, we wouldn’t eat meat anymore, we would not have a car… so it is obvious that this moral components, which plays a big role in a lot of people’s lives around the world, in order to realise just and equitable transitions” and realize social justice.

Fitzpatrick also agreed that the Pope’s constant reminder that everything is interconnected and that no one is saved alone is fundamental which speaks to the need for environmental justice and “that we can't deal with sustainability from an ecological perspective forgetting the integral human perspective.”

“Behind all this sustainability talk, is people and social justice, so every solution and discussion that we have needs to be centered around this,” he said.

Finally, Fitzpatrick said that he is “optimistic” regarding the final outcome of the process because solutions are going to come from everyday people coming together in this “ecological conversion” that is being advocated for by Pope Francis and the development of the Laudato sì Action Platform and other such projects.

“Social change tends to come from the below, so it's about inspiring others, coming together and developing solutions as a community, (…) so the idea is to build consciousness and to act the spirit of the common good,” he concluded, “which is why I think Pope Francis invites every one of goodwill when he speaks about conversions in addressing the climate crisis.”


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01 November 2021, 14:19