CAFOD and climate change frequently asked questions

Heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan destroyed thousands of homes, roads, bridges and farms in August 2013.

Heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan destroyed thousands of homes, roads, bridges and farms in August 2013 for the third year in a row.

Click on the questions below to find out about CAFOD's position on climate change and why now is a vital time to campaign about climate.

1. Why is CAFOD campaigning on climate? 

Climate change is the single biggest threat to reducing poverty. Whether it is floods destroying entire communities, damaging homes and property or unpredictable seasons for farmers leading to harvests growing smaller or failing, leaving millions hungry, climate change is undoing years of our work together to improve people’s lives.

If CAFOD is serious about tackling poverty, we need to take climate change seriously. The world’s poorest people are already being hit hardest by climate extremes. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) project that climate change is expected to significantly increase and intensify extreme climatic events, putting those most vulnerable at even greater risk.

2. What’s CAFOD’s campaign asking for?

To succeed in tackling climate change, every country, every government department and every community needs to play their part.

Ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris in December 2015, over 40,000 UK Catholics urged David Cameron and other world leaders to ensure that agreements on tackling climate change and poverty are fair and ambitious. We are also urging him and other world leaders to cut carbon emissions to keep global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 °C.

Read about the Paris Agreement

An international deal also needs to be embedded in national action. The UK government is undermining its own commitments on tackling climate change by supporting fossil fuel projects in developing countries.

One in five of our brothers and sisters around the world still don’t have the electricity they need to power school, clinics, homes and businesses. Local, renewable energy is a practical, affordable way for the poorest people to benefit.

We know it works, and we urgently need our government to support it.

At the same time we are also asking individuals to commit to playing their own part by taking action to live sustainably. By doing this we’re showing politicians how much we care and that we expect them to act too.

3. Why are we campaigning on climate change now?

To stop the world’s temperature rising by irreversibly dangerous levels, we must act now by tackling the causes.

The UK is already respected globally for taking the lead on tackling climate change in 2008 – when, partly thanks to your campaigning, it passed the ground-breaking Climate Change Act.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 provides an interntional framework for long-term co-operation on tackling climate change and cutting carbon emissions, the first of its kind. We need to continue to put pressure on our government to ensure that they rise to historic opportunity for serious, united climate action.

At CAFOD we have also been reflecting on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’. In this Pope Francis inspires us to open our eyes and be more compassionate towards creation and our neighbours. He speaks openly about the devastating effects of climate change on people and the planet. He says that climate change is real, urgent and it must be tackled.

He has chosen a critical time to speak out and encourages each of us to play our part, from rethinking our lifestyles to pressing politicians to do the right thing.

He acknowledges that individuals and groups can make a real difference and that: “all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si’ #14)

4. What is climate change, and what do we mean by sustainable energy?

Climate change - When we define climate change, we refer to changes in the global climate beyond those which we would expect to see due to natural climate variations.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as a "change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."

Sustainable energy - Energy that does not harm the climate or local environment and does not prevent future generations from meeting their energy needs.

Sustainable energy should also be affordable, safe, and reliable for all.

5. What causes climate change? Why does energy matter?

The global energy system – power and transport - is currently responsible for over 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, rising to over 80% in developed countries like the UK.

This makes it the global energy sector a major contributor to climate change. Globally, if our current demand for energy continues, energy emissions are set to double by 2030. Alongside this, demand in countries that are industrialising is rising.

To achieve the emissions cuts required to tackle climate change, we have to urgently shift away from using polluting fossil fuels to more sustainable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, water and geothermal, along with making our use of all energy more efficient.

Billions of people around the world still do not have access to electricity or clean ways to cook. 1.2 billion – 1 in 5 - do not have access to electricity, and 2.8 billion use polluting fuels to cook and heat their houses.

Investing in sustainable energy is vital not just to tackle climate change, but so everyone can light their homes, their schools and hospitals, and so they can produce food and run businesses.

Pollution from cooking smoke is a major cause of illness and death, particularly for woman and girls.

Therefore supporting access to safe, sustainable energy is essential for tackling poverty and improving health and wellbeing as well as tackling climate change. 

6. Should rich countries take a lead in shifting to clean energy?

Yes. It is vital that rich countries show the way and shift first and rapidly from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. They should also deliver the money and support to enable developing countries to develop cleanly and to adapt to the impacts of climate change which they experience.

7. Won’t limiting the use of fossil fuels hold poorer countries back from developing economically in the way richer nations have?

Limiting the use of fossil fuels should not hold back people living in poverty. The vast majority (84 per cent) of people living without energy access throughout Africa and India live in rural and remote areas. These areas would benefit most from renewables rather than fossil fuels because:

1) Renewable energy doesn’t demand the huge power plants and heavy network of transmission lines required by fossil fuel power – these rural areas are far from power plants and transmission lines.

2) Renewables allow developing countries to leapfrog a cost-intensive, inefficient grid in developing countries – it’s like skipping the building of landlines in developing countries and moving straight to the more advanced technology of mobile phones.

3) Installation is quick – it can take years to build fossil fuel plants, a solar panel can be installed on a roof in one day and a whole solar plant built in as little as three months.

4) Renewables are more reliable. Wind and solar need less backup generation than fossil fuels or nuclear sources. This is because changes in wind and solar generation tend to be gradual and predictable, unlike fossil fuel generation and nuclear sources, which can have large, abrupt and unpredictable changes in electricity output.

8.What are the Sustainable Development Goals, and what do they have to do with climate change?

 The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals give a global framework to measure progress on ending poverty – from improving access to education to reducing the number of women dying in childbirth.

Crucially, the SDGs also recognise the devastating impact climate change is already having on the poorest people, and its potential to undermine our ability to achieve the other goals.

The United Nations’ final text includes positive references to the need for environmental sustainability and an increased focus on human dignity – both themes of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. CAFOD has campaigned to ensure the voices of our partners and people living in poverty around the world have played a part in deciding these development goals, and attention is given in the final text to the participation of all people to care for our common home.

However, CAFOD believes robust follow up and review mechanisms must be put in place to ensure the world delivers on this agenda, to realise the crucial emphasis the text places on leaving nobody behind, and in particular to ensure we reach the furthest behind first.

Find out more

9. What are the links with our faith?

Nature reveals God to us. The world is a gift from God and its future is intimately bound up with our own lives and choices. Climate change not only threatens the natural world, but also the lives and livelihoods of our global neighbours, especially the world’s poorest communities.

Our faith calls us to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with people who are poor. So doing our bit to tackle climate change is a fundamental part of expressing our faith.

At CAFOD we have also been inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical. Laudato Si’ is the first social encyclical in the Catholic Church to address care for the environment and environmental justice in a direct and specific way. Laudato Si' complements what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, which is that our responsibility as good stewards of creation is to care for our world and not ‘steal’ resources from future generations. Pope Francis calls us to an ecological conversion, and invites us to praise God for the gifts of creation.

Find prayers on the themes of climate change and the environment

10. What about Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'?

In Laudato Si' Pope Francis speaks openly about the devastating effects of climate change on people and the planet. He says that climate change is real, urgent and it must be tackled. He also describes the climate as "a common good, belonging to all and meant for all".

This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken about climate change. During his trip to the Philippines in 2015, journalists asked him whether he thought that mankind was responsible for climate change, to which he replied, “I don’t know if it is all [man’s fault] but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature”. He has also expressed relief that there is a growing movement to tackle climate change. He said, “Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking out about this.”

The nature of papal encyclicals means that Laudato Si' focuses on the broader issues of integral human development and stewardship of God’s creation. It highlights the greatest threats facing the human family today: climate change, growing global inequality and the destruction of nature. 

Find resources to help you reflect and act on the encyclical's message

11. How can I, and my parish, make a difference?

Although each change we make might seem small in itself, together it all adds up. It’s a sign that we want a much bigger change, and our actions can encourage others to get involved. It also strengthens our campaigning.

If we are calling on politicians to cut emissions and support sustainable energy, then our words will be much stronger if we commit to achieving the same goals in our own lives. It helps to demonstrate our support for people living in poverty, living with climate extremes and expected to be significantly adversely impacted by climate change.

 Personal commitments come in all shapes and sizes. You could get an energy monitor, turn down your heating or improve insulation, or simply tell someone else about CAFOD’s campaign.

Explore the actions you can take at home and in your church to help tackle climate change

12. The UK is so small; will cutting our emissions make any difference?

It's true that no single country’s emission reductions will make a difference on its own, it’s only if every nation agrees to limit polluting greenhouse gases emissions can we achieve the cuts we need on a global scale.

The UK is responsible for about 2 per cent of the whole world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions. In 2010, the UK's net greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be equivalent to 590.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Reducing these emissions is a vitally important task.

However, the UK can also play an even larger role - in global climate leadership, raising ambition levels at EU, and international decision making levels, as well as in meetings such as UN Security Council and the G7. In 2008, the UK showed leadership by introducing the Climate Change Act. It became the first country in the world to introduce legally binding targets, and other countries followed suit.

13. Does campaigning work?

Yes, the UK’s Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement are proof of that.

The Act was passed in Parliament with cross-party support in 2008 and it set the UK on a path to reduce its emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. MPs passed such ambitious legislation because supporters of organisations like CAFOD campaigned strongly for it. It was also backed by other faith groups, industry groups and trade unions, and helped show that the UK could be a global leader in acting on climate change.

The agreement made in Paris in 2015 marks the start of a new era of action on climate change. The deal, which says that temperature increases must stay well below 2°C, and ideally be kept to 1.5°C, came after a huge global campaign. Over 40,000 CAFOD, Trocaire and SCIAF supporters signed a global Catholic petition which reached the UN and the French government. 

Of course, this campaign won’t be easy, but if we build a big enough movement of people determined to act on this critical issue, working with our partners in the Catholic Church and around the world, and with our allies across the UK, Europe and globally, we have every hope that we can bring about change.

Read more about campaigning successes

14. Is CAFOD working with other organisations?

Yes. We are part of The Climate Coalition, which brings together over 100 organisations, from environment and development charities to trade unions, faith groups, community and women’s groups. We are also working closely with other development charities, such as Christian Aid and Oxfam, who also see climate change and lack of access to sustainable energy as a major obstacle to tackling poverty. Find out more by visiting

CAFOD is part of CIDSE, a European group of Catholic organisations, who speak with a united Catholic voice in UN climate change negotiations. CIDSE works through its members in different European countries, Bishops’ Conferences and partners in developing countries. CIDSE will have a presence at forthcoming UN climate talks. 

CAFOD is also an active member of Caritas International, which works with national Caritas organisations around the world, Bishops’ Conferences and southern partners to speak out on global issues.

We are also a member of the GCCM (Global Catholic Climate Movement), a global network of over 200 Catholic organisations working to respond to climate change.

15. Would building a coal plant give energy poor communities the services they need?

Most people in energy poverty live in rural, sparsely populated areas. This means that connecting them to the electricity grid, however it is powered, would be expensive.

Even once a community has electricity, connection costs can be too steep for poor households. In some African countries connection fees are over 100% the average monthly income. Adding new electricity capacity does not automatically translate into more access for poor people and even where communities have had electricity for decades, it is common for many households to remain unconnected.

In the case of coal plants, these can take over a decade to come online, from the initial investment to when they start producing electricity (not including time for grid expansion or changes to make sure that new capacity translates into new connections). Experience from two new coal plants built in South Africa is that they required a lot of investment, there have been long delays in producing electricity, and this electricity will have a high price.

Another problem in Sub-Saharan Africa is that the population is growing faster than the grid, population growth outpaced progress on both access to electricity and modern cooking services between 1990 and 2010.

Finally, even when people are connected, electricity grids in many countries are very unreliable with frequent power cuts.

For most households, particularly in rural areas where most energy poor people live, the cheapest option for electricity access is usually an off-grid system. In most cases, powered by solar, mini-hydro, or wind.

Even if a new coal-fired power plant translated into electricity access, it is unlikely to give people access to affordable and safe methods of cooking. In Africa and Asia, electricity is rarely used for cooking, even among households connected to the grid. As cooking uses a large amount of electricity, and electric stoves can be expensive. There are also cultural reasons why people sometimes prefer to cook over fires, such as the taste of the food or as part of maintaining traditions.

Read our climate change myth buster

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