Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
at the First Annual Global Climate Restoration Forum
United Nations, New York, 17 September 2019
In the fight against climate change, we hear a lot about mitigation and adaptation, but not about climate restoration. I have learned that climate restoration seeks to return the Earth’s climate within one or two generations to its condition before the start of the Industrial Revolution. That is a much more ambitious objective than mitigation and adaptation, whose common objective “is to achieve… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC, Art. 2).
Yet, in spite of its great promise, the term “climate restoration” is not found either in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or in the Paris Agreement.
This lack of reference to climate restoration in the most important climate change documents leaves one to ask where climate restoration fits into the overall effort to fight climate change. I believe this is the primary task of our experts and panelists this afternoon. They will seek to help us understand, and convince the doubters, why climate restoration should be considered as an important component in the fight against climate change, or, why, indeed, do we need to restore the earth climate’s conditions to pre-industrial levels.
Climate restoration is a major challenge to technology. Besides the promise it holds as a valid approach in itself in the fight against climate change, the innovation it could bring may also contribute to more efficient mitigation and adaptation measures. The pursuit of it, however, has also its detractors. There are those, for example, who think that it would divert resources away from urgent mitigation and adaptation measures, weaken ambitious climate goals, discourage decarbonization and the use of renewal energy. There are also those who caution that certain methods of extracting greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere could be more harmful than beneficial.
I believe that the relevance of this first Annual Global Climate Restoration Forum at the United Nations lies in helping us to have a better understanding of what climate restoration is all about.
While trying to learn more about climate restoration approaches that are meant to complement mitigation and adaptations efforts, let us turn our attention to the greatest decarbonizing and oxygenizing mechanism of all, namely, nature. All climate-related documents recognize the importance of forests in carbon reductions and in oxygen production. Elementary school science tells us that forests and woodlands reduce carbon dioxide. They are a great climate stabilizer. That’s why the continued degradation of the world’s forests is a threat that we must face without delay, because such degradation threatens the whole ecosystem.
The threats against the environment and the need to find solutions are amplified by the great necessity to act urgently, as the October 2018 Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed. The Report’s conclusions are even more worrying when put side by side with the clear insufficiency of the current nationally determined commitments to achieve the objectives set by the Paris Agreement. The Report says that it is still possible to limit global warming, but to do so will require much greater ambition and action now to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is the overriding objective of the imminent UN Climate Action Summit.
I am pleased to anticipate that, in response to the request of His Excellency the United Nations Secretary-General, Pope Francis will address the Climate Summit through a video message. This, I believe, is further assurance that the care of the environment is very high in the priorities of Pope Francis. When he spoke to the UN General Assembly in September 2015, one of the main themes of his Address was about the care for our common home, about care for our brothers and sisters in that home, and about the interconnectedness between the two. To harm the environment, he said, is to harm human beings and we see this in how the misuse and abuse of the environment are “accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion … of the weak and disadvantaged.” In response to this, solemn commitments, he said, are not enough; it requires a political will that is “effective, practical and constant” that will lead to “concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion.”
The Holy See and the Catholic Church actively advocate for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Pope Francis has emphasized time and again that the transition to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a problem not only within the domain of technology; it is also, even more primarily, a question of human behavior, like consumption patterns and lifestyles that, in turn, orient ways of production. Thus, finding innovative ways to promote sustainable production and consumption and fostering lifestyles that leave the smallest carbon footprint possible should be encouraged. In this regard, non-State actors are doing much to help policymakers to make ecofriendly decisions.
For the Catholic Church, care for the environment is primarily an ethical and religious imperative: it is stewardship of God’s creation. From this perspective, increasingly bringing into the climate debate authentic love and care for the environment could inspire and persuade many more people, especially climate doubters, than visions of apocalyptic catastrophes would. While science is fundamental in telling us the state of our environment, it is the conviction to love and care for it that moves the heart.
We know what we can do. Now we need to do it. The solutions are numerous and within our reach.
Thank you for your kind attention.