Pope Francis urged us at the beginning of 2023 not to ignore “one fundamental fact”: that “the main moral, social, political and economic crises we are experiencing are all interconnected”.
The connections between crises – and leaders’ failure to tackle them – is clear. Countries such as Pakistan are being forced to choose between paying to rebuild after climate catastrophes or paying debts to foreign creditors. The war in Ukraine has sent volatile fossil fuel prices soaring and driven the cost of living crisis worldwide.
Failing to tackle one problem will only make another worse. In 2023, that means decision makers must tackle both the impacts of the climate emergency and its causes – including its connections to the debt crisis.
What needs to happen on climate change in 2023?
Historic drought in East Africa. Monumental floods in Pakistan. Record summer heatwaves in the UK.
The climate crisis isn’t something that belongs to the future. It’s a reality that’s with us now.
It’s also a reality that the communities who have contributed least to the greenhouse gas emissions driving temperature rises are the ones being hardest hit by the crisis. As Fr Leonard Chiti, Jesuit Provincial for Southern Africa, has said: “We are now in the era of Loss and Damage. All over the world, climate impacts are taking hold, causing deep and painful suffering for millions of people.”
Moyori, a student in Bangladesh whose family has received support from the Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development – a civil society group CAFOD works with in the country – summed up the problem:
“Nature and the environment is for us all. If it is affected, then we are all affected, it isn’t just one person’s problem. When natural disasters come, it affects whole villages. So we need to deal with it, because if we preserve the environment, it is not just our neighbourhood or village, the whole world will be benefitted.”
We need leaders to take action on the climate crisis on three fronts in 2023: food, finance and fossil fuels.
Donate to the Lent Appeal
This Lent, you can help families around the world to cope with the climate crisis. Communities are losing loved ones, their homes and their crops through no fault of their own. The people we serve are determined to adapt and they need your help now to get the tools and training they tell us they need.
1. Fix the food system
Our food system is broken.
We grow enough food to feed everyone in the world, yet millions of people are going hungry – a problem made worse by the climate crisis as crops are destroyed by more frequent and more severe droughts, storms and floods.
The connections between our broken food system and the climate crisis aren’t limited to the damage climate disasters are causing to food production. The way we produce food in itself is contributing to the climate crisis: 34 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to our food system. This is mainly because of deforestation to clear land for commercial agriculture.
What we need to fix the food system in 2023
Governments must take steps to fix the world’s food system in ways that tackle poverty and climate change together, recognising the connections between the two.
The World Bank must stop supporting laws that restrict the rights of small-scale farmers to choose which seeds to plant and that put more control in the hands of big agribusiness companies. This limits the variety of crops grown, making food production less resilient to the effects of climate disasters.
The UK government has a crucial role to play by developing a strategy for supporting agriculture around the world in ways that care for our common home, rather than harm it.
2023 will see further talks take place on the ‘Koronivia Process’ – work being undertaken by governments as part of the annual UN climate negotiations. Countries must set out in 2023 the ways in which this process will be governed and financed, including at the COP28 climate talks taking place at the end of the year.
Fix the food system
Our global food system is broken. Over 800 million people go hungry, and the way we produce much of our food harms our planet.
In 2023, the second phase of our Fix the Food System campaign will focus on the issue of seeds. Seeds are at the very heart of the food system. They are part of nature and given by God for the benefit of all but increasingly farmers’ rights to choose their own seeds are under threat. We’ll have an activity for parishes after Easter about this issue.
2. Finance the fight against climate change
Money is crucial for tackling the climate crisis, yet not enough of it is being provided.
Countries need to spend money on cutting greenhouse gas emissions – something known as 'mitigation'. This includes increasing the amount of power generated by renewable energy and ensuring that everyone has access to safe, clean and affordable energy.
Countries also need to spend money on ways of preparing for the impacts of climate change – known as ‘adaptation’.
Low- and middle-income countries are often the hardest hit by the effects of the climate emergency, despite having done the least to cause it. Richer countries, who are the biggest historic emitters, promised to provide at least $100bn each year in ‘climate finance’ to developing countries, but have failed to do so.
Even $100bn is too little to address the challenge. We need new ways of providing money.
Discussions will be taking place in 2023 on these. They include cancelling or reducing debt demands for countries owing money to other governments, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and private banks and creditors.
They also include calls for countries to reform their tax systems to encourage green investment and deter carbon emissions.
Other ideas include the IMF issuing a type of reserve currency known as 'Special Drawing Rights', or ‘SDRs’, which countries can use to add to their balance sheets and spend on climate measures.
One significant development in 2022 was governments agreeing at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt to set up a ‘loss and damage fund’ to provide money to countries on the frontline of the climate emergency who are suffering destruction and devastation as a result of temperature rises. This should be paid for by countries that have polluted the most over the last two hundred years, but details of how exactly to fund the fund are yet to be decided.
Some ways of providing finance to address climate change are being discussed as part of a project known as the ‘Bridgetown Agenda’ or ‘Bridgetown Initiative’. This is a package of policies introduced by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados. President Macron of France will host a conference in Paris in June with Prime Minister Mottley for leaders to look further at the Bridgetown Agenda and calls for ‘innovative forms of finance’ to tackle the climate crisis.
What we need to finance the fight against climate change in 2023
We need the UK government to engage in discussions and plug the gap between the amount of finance being provided in the fight against the climate crisis and the amount needed.
The UK must also prevent private creditors from using English courts to sue countries that are in debt crisis. Countries such as Pakistan are facing multi-billion dollar debt demands at the same time as having to spend billions rebuilding from climate catastrophes and prepare for the next disaster. The UK has a crucial role to play in tackling this injustice, as 90 per cent of debt contracts operate under English law.
3. Stop supporting fossil fuels
Addressing the impacts of the climate crisis is only part of the solution. We also need to tackle its causes – the most obvious being the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Burning coal, oil and gas emits carbon dioxide, the biggest contributor to the dangerous temperature rises experienced in recent decades. The International Energy Agency has said that no more fossil fuel resources can be exploited if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – seen as key for keeping temperature rises below the catastrophic 1.5C level.
Fossil fuels carry another cost. The huge rise in global gas prices as a result of the war in Ukraine has driven the cost of living crisis in the UK and abroad.
Despite this – and despite commitments to stop supporting fossil fuels overseas and calling on other countries to agree in UN climate negotiations to ‘phase out’ the use of fossil fuels – the UK government has approved a new coal mine in Cumbria and new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
What we need to stop fossil fuels in 2023
The UK government must keep its promises to stop funding fossil fuels internationally.
The UK government must stop issuing new licences for domestic oil and gas exploration.
The UK must push for other governments to commit at the COP28 climate conference at the end of 2023 to stop supporting fossil fuels.
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