Photo credit: Rosie Heaton

From 31 October to 12 November, COP26 will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, with the aim of accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As Catholics, what else should we know about the climate change conference, and why should we care about this vital UN summit?

Why does COP26 matter?

COP26 is an opportunity for governments to show how they’re going to protect our common home. They have their commitments –what are called Nationally Determined Contributions– and these tell the world how they’re going to care for our common home.

COP26 in Glasgow is a huge opportunity for the world’s governments to take big and bold actions and show how they’re going to care for our common home by promising to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and bring about a just transition to clean energy.

As part of the much-celebrated Paris Agreement, countries will come together every five years and explain how they’re going to ratchet up their commitments to meet the goals of the agreement – namely limiting global temperature increase this century to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and try to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Read more: What is COP26?

Right now, the world is not on target to meet that goal. Therefore this is a defining moment for world leaders to set ambitious targets and reach them. Every tenth of a degree of warming will have a huge impact on how many millions of our sisters and brothers suffer because of a worsening climate crisis and how much damage we inflict upon God’s creation.

COP26 also comes after another stack of reports from the United Nations and scientists have made clear that,  if we want to achieve the Paris agreement goals, we must choose a cleaner future and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The UN’s major climate report earlier this year said there’s still time to meet the Paris goals but only if “deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

COP26 is the world’s moment to commit to such reductions and respond to the urgent call to care for our common home.

Why should Catholics care about COP26?

Catholics should care about COP26 because our faith demands that we care for and about God’s creation and the most vulnerable, both of which are being devastated by the destructive climate crisis.

Two of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching are directly related to the climate crisis: option for the poor and vulnerable and caring for God’s creation. The ecological crisis and climate emergency are destroying God’s creation and our poorest and most vulnerable sisters and brothers are hurting the most, despite having little to do with the greenhouse gas emissions causing the crises.

Saints and Popes have made this clear for centuries – literally centuries – that as Catholics and people of faith we must care for God’s creation. Way back in the 12th century, St. Hildegard of Bingen said, “The Earth sustains humanity. It must not be harmed; it must not be destroyed.” So caring for God’s creation is something that has been a crucial part of the Catholic faith for centuries.

Pope Francis has inspired Catholics everywhere with his encyclical Laudato Si’. The powerful document helped the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics better understand that “everything is connected” and put millennia of Catholic teaching in the context of today’s ecological crisis and climate emergency.

On a more practical, daily living basis, the climate crisis is affecting all of us in the form of warmer temperatures and more extreme weather, both of which scientists say are more common in a hotter planet Earth.

Scientists say that the severe weather events on a warmer planet – stronger hurricanes, more extreme droughts, and more heat waves, among others – will continue to happen and worsen the longer we keep producing greenhouse gas emissions, thereby warming our planet.

Why should young Catholics care about climate change and biodiversity?

This is their future. They are the leaders who can take this process to fruition. Reshaping our energy systems and creating a more resilient and cleaner future will be decades-long process that they are leading in some ways and eventually will completely lead.

Watch: Young people at the forefront of the climate crisis

The climate crisis also will affect them more than anyone else. Their future, sadly, is set to be laden with more extreme weather events than any other generation’s. Literally their future is at stake.

Young people also have an opportunity to truly create a different future. They can decide the future they’re going to create and draw a line and say, no more fossil fuels, and then work tirelessly to create that future for our common home.

What can regular people do? What should they do?

Right now, sign the Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition. Dozens of faith-based organizations have come together and launched the Healthy Planet, Healthy People petition, which calls on governments to do four things at COP26 and the United Nations’ biodiversity conference, to be held in person in April 2022:

  1. Tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis together
  2. Limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and promise no more biodiversity loss
  3. Ensure equitable global action, including support for those most affected
  4. Protect and respect human rights, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in climate and biodiversity action

What would Laudato Si’ Movement and its members love to see come out of COP26?

  • More ambition: updated near-term national targets on climate and biodiversity action that reflect countries’ fair national share of the global effort to deliver on a 1.5 degree Celsius limit to warming, and a new global goal to protect 50 percent of nature.
  • Fulfilled promises: ensured delivery of existing finance commitments and an agreement on new targets that support adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage in developing countries.
  • Catalyzed transformation: a stop to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and the redirection of destructive subsidies towards socially-responsive renewable energy and agro-ecological farming approaches.
  • Prioritizing of rights: reaffirm and respect obligations to protect and respect human rights, including in particular the rights of Indigenous peoples and Local Communities in climate and biodiversity action.
  • Synodality: The Church, scientists, and governments all working together and engaged in this process through conscious dialogue.
How can people get involved after COP26?

Contact your national negotiator, learn more about your country’s nationally determined contribution, and work to keep your country and your community on track. That means calling elected officials, that means working to care for God’s creation in your community. That means talking about the climate crisis with friends and family. Everything counts and is important.

Find and lead local actions that care for God’s creation. Support climate solutions and oppose new fossil fuels projects. Work with community members to protect biodiversity and start preparing for the UN’s biodiversity conference, which will take place in April 2022 in-person in China.

Read and watch more about COP26: