Catholic groups, undeterred by Paris attacks, to attend climate summit

WASHINGTON — Catholic organizations advocating to protect the world and its people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending a major U.N. summit there.

“As far as I know, everyone who was planning to go is going. It is such an important issue, at such a critical moment, that we have all been working toward,” said Chloe Schwabe, director of the faith-economy-ecology project at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

The Eiffel Tower is seen at sunset in Paris Nov. 22. Catholic organizations said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending the U.N. climate change conference Nov. 30-Dec. 11. (CNS photo | Charles Platiau, Reuters)

“As awful and horrific as the terrorist attacks in Paris were, that can’t stop us, because there are so many other people suffering around the world … from the impact of climate change,” Schwabe told Catholic News Service Nov 21.

She was one of several Catholic organization representatives who told CNS they were moving forward with previously scheduled plans to be present at the U.N. climate change conference, set to take place in the French capital Nov. 30-Dec. 11. The conference aims at limiting greenhouse gas emissions by way of a global accord.

The representatives reiterated earlier plans to relay the stories of people already feeling the effects of climate change in Oceania, Asia, Africa and Latin America, in hopes of convincing summit delegates of the need to mitigate climate change through safeguards that do not further compromise the poor.

Climate change “is still the No. 1 issue, it is still what we have to take care of,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director of Franciscan Action Network.

“These horrific events that happened in Paris are not going to stop us from doing what we have to do,” which will include presenting representatives of U.N. member countries with a climate petition signed by more than 500,000 concerned Catholics from around the globe, Carolan told CNS Nov. 19.

International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity, or CIDSE, an alliance of Catholic development agencies, said it was deeply affected by the attacks because many of its members are based in Paris, where they occurred, and because the alliance is headquartered in Brussels, where some of the suspected killers allegedly originated.

“We are, of course, shocked and saddened by the events, but we are still very committed to all the activities planned around the topics of transformative change and climate justice,” Bernd Nilles, CIDSE secretary-general, said in a Nov. 20 email.

The Paris attacks killed at least 130 people at various locations. The French government has imposed a three-month state of emergency and canceled public concerts and rallies, including two major rallies in association with the summit, citing security concerns in light of the attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Catholic organization representatives surmised that France’s decision to ban the public events would negatively affect desired momentum behind the summit. That made it especially important now to encourage related rallies in other parts of the world, they said.

“While I do understand the security concerns, I am also fearful of closing down spaces for civil society to express itself. It does not look good for citizen participation and input in the process of the negotiations,” said Genevieve Talbot, research and advocacy officer for Development and Peace, the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada.

“It makes it all the more important to participate in local marches in our hometowns. We will be very present at the march in Ottawa on Nov. 29,” Talbot told CNS.

Talbot and Carolan drew links between terrorism and other forms of violence in general, and the damage they said was being disproportionately inflicted on the world’s poorest people due to climate change. Schwabe said that she would be “very reticent to link terrorism and climate change.”

Worsening weather conditions were causing droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other disasters, leading people to “turn to whatever they can to get food, and in some cases that’s going to mean … turn to violence,” said Carolan.

Both he and Talbot specifically cited Syria as a place where severe water shortages had added to widespread discontent, paving the way to mass migration, war and terror.

“We do see the link between the effects of climate change and instability that can lead to terrorism. We sometimes use the case of Syria as an example, where an important drought since 2000 created huge discontent among the population. The place where the conflict started in 2011 was a part of the country that was hit the worst by the drought. There were about 200,000 migrants that were very unhappy with the way the regime was handling the situation. And now we know where the things are,” Talbot said, referring to Syria’s civil war.

Nilles said that, while not directly related, the deadly attacks in Paris should give pause to reflect on suffering in other regions of the world, which he attributed to climate change, the extraction of natural resources and vast economic inequalities.

“Talking about Paris means also standing in solidarity with all the innocent victims of violence and their families across the globe. We are not sure if politicians are ready to make these links, but addressing climate change and phasing out fossil fuels NOW is urgent and also makes sense from a security point of view, as it can dry out financial means of terror groups,” Nilles wrote in the email.

“We need a new economic paradigm not based on fossil fuels, reducing inequalities, serving social justice and the environment (at the) same time. … As the pope says in “Laudato Si’: All these issues are interconnected,” Nilles added, referring to Pope Francis’ May 2015 encyclical championing how a change of heart is necessary to protect the earth and all its inhabitants.

Schwabe agreed that adverse conditions, such as drought in Tanzania and rising sea levels in Fiji, were forcing certain populations to relocate, potentially causing “instability.”

And in an interesting twist, she pointed to her past experiences in El Salvador, where she witnessed how violence and instability had led to the burning down of trees, which in turn had led to climate change, not vice versa.

“I think that’s why the climate talks are so important. I mean, this is an opportunity to try and get an agreement that will be able to help plan for the future of climate change,” she said.