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Climate and Other Action: The Pope, UN and Brooklyn!

Peg Byron is Vice President of the UNA Brooklyn Chapter

This month, just as the UN climate conference planned for Paris draws near, Pope Francis added muscular moral punch to the global climate dispute.

Warning that the planet, our “common home,” is beginning to resemble a “pile of filth,” the pope issued an unprecedented Catholic statement addressing the human rights and socio-economic implications of pollution and global warming. He highlighted the pain already borne by the poor and criticized the hypocrisy of the developed world for exploiting environments of impoverished nations.

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” Francis wrote. “In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”

He continued, “The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programs of sustainable development.”

Quoted by news media worldwide, the encyclical, “Laudato Si,” [Praise to You], is an authoritative statement of Catholic Church teaching and likely to reach even beyond the world’s 1 billion Catholics. It comes in advance of the pope’s planned trip to the U.S., where he will address a joint session of Congress, and speak to the United Nations during the world body’s 70th anniversary session, just ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, in Paris, 30 November-11 December, with negotiators from about 190 member states.

“It gives a lot of cover to political and economic leaders in those countries, as they make decisions on climate change policy,” Timothy Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation, told The New York Times of the papal pronouncement.

However, Francis also sharply criticized the trading of carbon credits — a market-based system central to the West’s climate policy — calling it a possible “ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

The UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, still welcomed the Catholic teaching, saying in a statement, “Pope Francis’ encyclical underscores the moral imperative for urgent action on climate change. …This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year.”

The Paris summit will seek international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to below 2°C; scientists have warned that global warning past that level would be catastrophic and irreversible. The agreements would take effect in 2020.


You don’t have to go to Paris (though please feel free) if you want learn more about climate and other international concerns.

Check out The Energy Project, a project of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) Southern New York State Division that seeks to support public-private partnerships like UN Energy and sustainable energy efforts such as for clean cook stoves.

From right here in Brooklyn – Brooklyn Borough Hall to be exact -- UNA’s Brooklyn Chapter will host an important event just two days before United Nations Day that you should plan to attend. Mark your calendar now for October 22, when Brooklyn celebrates the UN’s 70th anniversary with a networking event that includes world music, local, national and international speakers, and an array of NGO and UN agencies, followed by a reception/happy hour [For questions about this event contact Event Co-Chair Travis Hardy (]..

Your help would be much appreciated as well for a Girl Up Fundraiser on November 8. This will help students at Park Slope’s Poly Prep sponsor a fashion show and other festivities, to support Girl Up, a UN Foundation program, and its special focus on efforts for girls in Guatemala. Planning will continue this summer with outreach to international designers to contribute fashions for show/raffle and other items for sale. (The students are very enthusiastic!) Please help by contacting Chapter Treasurer Michelle Cuartes (

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