Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Update from Paris: How to help those most vulnerable to climate change?

Maryknoll Sisters Becky Macugay and Marvie Misolas with Naomi Klein

Chloe Schwabe, Faith-Economy-Ecology program director for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, reports from the 21st annual UN climate conference (COP21) in Paris.

During the month of November, we shared a weekly prayer-study-action series called Path to Paris. We hope small groups and parishes continue to use the four two-page guides to learn about the issues involved in the global climate crisis and what we can do individually and collectively.

We’ve made it to Paris!

The first week of COP21 began on November 30. This massive conference has roughly 40,000 delegates representing nearly 200 nations.

I am here with Maryknoll Sisters Elizabeth Zwareva, Marvie Misolas, and Becky Macugay. We are meeting in the outskirts of Paris, in six large tent-like warehouse structures. Much of the first day was spent learning how to navigate through the massive tents to find meetings.

Another part of the day was spent gathering with allies to strategize on how we can ensure a just and equitable agreement. One of the most exciting aspects of this conference is the opportunity to collaborate not only with longtime partners from the U.S. but also with climate justice advocates from other countries around the world.

Photo: Maryknoll Sisters Becky Macugay and Marvie Misolas with Naomi Klein, best-selling author of "This Changes Everything," November 30, 2015 in Paris. Photo courtesy of Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas.

Our hopes

Expectations are high for COP21 as government leaders aim to achieve a universal agreement on limiting global temperature increases for the first time in over 20 years. Some of the key issues being negotiated are:

  • mitigation targets – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a root cause of climate change)
  • financial action plans – to assist low-income countries in responding and adapting to the impacts of climate change, such as hurricanes, droughts and sea level rise
  • irreversible loss and damage response mechanisms – to respond to irreversible loss and damage, such as the submersion of low lying island nations, loss of coastal communities, and regular, irreversible crop failure 

We are collaborating with faith partners and other members of civil society to ensure that this last issue – loss and damage response – is recognized in the agreement and that a response mechanism is adopted. There is great hope and expectation that the final agreement will include actions to reduce irreversible loss and damage in the future. But there are low lying island states in jeopardy right now. Representatives from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, St Lucia, Barbados and Papua New Guinea are here, raising the need to take action now for island nations most vulnerable to climate change.

We are also raising the need to protect another vulnerable group – fishing and farming communities – who lose their livelihood when rising temperatures cause crops to fail, pests and diseases to flourish, and livestock to die. These people often become climate migrants, seeking refuge in cities within their country or crossing borders to neighboring countries.

Loss and damage from extreme climatic events is a serious issue in the Philippines. We are in the path of super typhoons many times a year.  Relief and rehabilitation constantly uses up national budget that could have been used for poverty alleviation, education, health and agricultural development.

– Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas

Youth delegation demonstration for vulnerable communitiesDecember 2, the third day of the conference, was dubbed “resilience day.” In a public show of support for vulnerable nations, a youth delegation organized a demonstration declaring the need to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, to limit Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to recognize loss and damage. Right now we are on a trajectory for a global temperature rise of about 3 degrees Celsius.

The miracle of sharing

The Gospel reading for December 2 was Matthew 15:29-37, which includes the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The reading is about sharing the abundance that comes from God. The scene is a kind of parable of what Jesus stands for: the compassion of God and his desire that the needs of all be fulfilled. People bring the lame and the blind to Jesus, trusting that he will heal them. Three days pass with Jesus teaching the crowds from a hillside by the Lake of Galilee. The people grow hungry. Jesus expresses compassion for them and a miracle happens – the disciples collect food from the crowd and it never runs out. This is what salvation means – the fulfilling of all our needs: spiritual, emotional, social and physical. An important aspect of the story is that the disciples, not Jesus, distribute the food.

Just like at the time of Jesus, we have abundance in our world. But needs go unmet because our compassion falls short and we fail to care for and share God’s blessings as he intended.

In Paris right now, countries are negotiating how to share our abundance to meet the needs of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. We are here to ensure that the final agreement has strong mechanisms in place to reduce our contributions to climate change and to address the devastating impacts of climate change. We are hopeful and determined. Stay tuned for another update soon.

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