International News

Outcome of COP26 ‘Mostly Negative’ Says Catholic Climate Activist

By Inés San Martín

ROME (Crux) — Glasgow’s COP26 United Nations climate change summit was years in the making. Yet, as the two weeks of negotiations end, the leader of the largest Catholic coalition protecting what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” sees the outcome as “mostly negative.”

A woman holds a placard during a Day of Action at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 6, 2021. (Photos: CNS/Simon Caldwell)

“The commitments that were expected to be made, unfortunately, have not,” said Argentine Tomas Insua, director of the Laudato Si’ Movement.

On Nov. 2, the movement presented a petition to the presidents of COP26 and COP16, the United Nations meeting on biodiversity, which is scheduled to be held next year in China.

The petition was signed by more than 120,000 Catholics and over 425 Catholic organizations and called for bold action to tackle both the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.

Insua told Crux that even though the scales are tipping against strong action, “there’s always hope” that world leaders might act under pressure.

He spoke with Crux on Tuesday, and these are excerpts of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Crux: How do you see the outcome of COP26?

Insula: Mixed. Unfortunately negative, because the commitments that were expected to be made, unfortunately, have not yet been made. The level of ambition of the governments is far from what is necessary. Three months ago the IPCC, the interdepartmental panel on climate change that the UN publishes every 6 years, with the full consensus of the world’s scientific community. As Antonio Gutierrez, the head of the U.N., called it, it was a code red for humanity.

And we are not reacting as humanity. Our governments are not reacting to what the scientists are asking us to do.

There is always hope, but to be honest, there are a lot of technical issues that are being discussed, the whole process of negotiations is very complex, and it is not going well.

Why do rich countries have to finance it?

Because they are the ones that have the responsibility because they are the ones that have historically polluted the most. But their inaction generates a very perverse incentive in the rest of the world, with countries deciding to do nothing because those most responsible for climate change are doing nothing.

For example, the United States: For months now, Biden’s climate change package has been blocked in the U.S. Congress by a senator, Catholic, and Democrat: Joe Manchin. All Republicans are against it by definition, but with Congress split down the middle, it is this congressman who is holding everything back in the country with the greatest responsibility for climate change.

Biden arrives in Glasgow, says he’s going to do things, but we all know that unfortunately, at home, it’s not coming well.

Even if he intends to act, they won’t let him?

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have that much intention either, because there are so many executive actions that he promised he was going to implement, and he doesn’t do it.

Why so much promise, but so much inaction on climate change?

Because of the oil and fossil fuel lobby. Manchin is deeply linked to the coal industry, with shares in coal companies and his son owns a coal company. The economic interests of these polluting companies that corruptly have a lot of power, especially in the United States, where the financing of politicians comes from corporations, are involved. And this is what Pope Francis denounces in Laudato Si’ — powerful interests that override the common good.

Africans join a protest during a Day of Action at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 6, 2021.

Here is where the Church has a fundamental role: The debate gets into technical and political issues, but there is a moral imperative to take care of the poorest and future generations. And we also have to denounce the most polluting companies and disinvest from fossil fuels. It is a response that the ecclesial institutions can give, joining a gigantic multisectoral coalition, which is boycotting fossil fuel companies.

Today these companies are determined to avoid combating climate change, but we have the responsibility to raise our voices. And Pope Francis, when the leaders of these industries came to Rome, told them to their face that they were not fulfilling the commitments of the Paris agreement.

Are you taking anything positive from COP26 in Glasgow?

Yes, several things. There are many things that unfortunately are not right, but there are signs of hope. Little by little, some things are moving, but they are moving 25 years too late. But better late than never. For example, the $39 trillion disinvestment announced earlier this month represents a large percentage of the world economy, and it would not have happened without Glasgow.

Also in Glasgow, we held an interfaith event to present a petition, Healthy Planet, Healthy People, with members from basically all religions. We had done a similar gathering in Paris, and now again, as a follow-up to what happened in Rome in October, [when] the Vatican the heads of many faith traditions came together.

There was also a lot of talk about the concrete plans to be implemented by religions because on the one hand, we can complain to the governments, but we also have to act at home. And this commitment to action at home is very important. And for this reason, on Monday, the dicastery for Integral Human Development will launch the Laudato Si’ action platform.

Pope Francis, in the speech he sent to the COP, said that we are basically in a post-world war situation. Continuing with that allegory: Who would be the Allies and who would be the Axis?

What matters in climate change is historical emissions. The United States, historically, burned much more than China. Today China burns a little bit more, but they have three times more people. The main problem is the rich countries, but the issue is much more complicated. There are many countries in the Axis. The Allies, in fact, are small countries and poor countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, several African countries, and the Pacific Islands. They have a coalition, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and though they did not contribute anything to climate change, this crisis is today killing them.

For instance, Madagascar today has one million people at risk of starvation, and it is the first famine that is 100 percent a result of the climate crisis. And nobody is talking about this crisis. And it is a country with subsistence agriculture, where a severe drought kills.

I insist, there are many countries in the Axis, but by far, those who have more responsibility are Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan. Of these, Europe is the best, and Australia the worst. Which is ironic, because Australia is being devastated by climate change.