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Cancún, Europe and WikiLeaks

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, the Flemish minister for the environment, Mss Joke Schauvliege left for Cancún and COP16. As, at this moment, Belgium assumes the presidency of the EU, she will also play an important role in representing the European perspective. At the airport of Brussels, a delegation of the Climate Coalition, an umbrella for around 70 organisations, invited the minister to push forward the negotiations for a follow-up agreement on the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, in the meantime we know that precisely these negotiations seem to be blocked. The core difficulty, at political level, is probably the difficulty of multilateral agreements. In this context, it is interesting to note that already immediately after the Copenhagen COP16, at which he was not present, Herman Van Rompuy expressed in a conversation, leaked by WikiLeaks, with US ambassador in Belgium Howard Gutman that he did not expect real results from a multilateral meeting as Cancún. A summary of that conversation is available in the Euobserver. Of course, the president of the European Council is convinced of the urgency of climate change and the planetary environmental challenges, but at the same time, when looking for a political approach, he emphasizes to clarify and solidify the European position and commitment, and then to engage in bilateral negotiations, first with the USA and then with the USA and China.

After it has become clear that Japan is unwilling to pursue a re-negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol and in view of this conversation between Van Rompuy and Gutman, one may wonder whether it will be possible to design a political strategy that will lead to an urgently needed agreements on mitigation, adaptation, financial support and technological transfers.

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Some good news from Cancún

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Another blog entry by Seán McDonagh, SSC: progress on REDD made by Brasil in the Amazon Region.

Very often the news coming from UN Climate Change meetings is bad. Nations which should be cutting their carbon omissions are not doing so, or are using loopholes to avoid sanctions. So, a good news story is welcome.

On December 1, 2010, Brazil announced that deforestation in the country had fallen to another record low level. The reduction in Amazon deforestation, from over 27,000 km2 in 2004 to below 6,500 km2 in 2010, is the largest reduction in emissions made by any country anywhere in the world. And so Brazil, a tropical emerging economy, has done what rich, industrialized countries promised to do almost a decade ago, but have yet failed to deliver.

According to the US based Union of Concern Scientists, Brazil’s reduced deforestation emissions in five years from 2005 to 2010 amounted to 870 million tones of CO2 annually.

How does this compare with other countries? Well, the EU’s pledge of 20% reduction by 2020 corresponds to just below 850 million tones and the U.S. pledge of 17% reduction (below 2005, not 1990 as it is the case for other rich countries) is about 1,2000 million tones.

Brazil originally set a goal of reducing deforestation by 80% by 2020. However, since it has already achieved 67% reduction, the outgoing President Inacio Lula da Silva recently moved that date back to 2016. Brazilian Civil Society Organisations (CSO) here at Cancun are rightly proud of this record, but they feel that their country can do better. They are campaigning to eliminate deforestation by the year 2015. They want the incoming President-elect Dilma Dousseff to support this position.

These organizations realize that the struggle to eliminate forest destruction has been very costly. Dorothy Mae Stang, an American born Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was brutally murdered on February 12, 2005 for opposing logging. She had previously received death threats from both loggers and large land owners. Almost one decade earlier Chico Mendes (1944 –1988), a rubber trapper, trade unionist and environmentalist, was also murdered by ranchers, who were opposed to his campaigns to protect the forest and the people of the forest.

The forces that killed these two people and hundreds of others like them are still active in Brazil. At this moment, there is a major struggle under way in the Brazilian Congress with loggers and ranchers doing everything possible to oppose the Forest Code which has contributed much to reducing deforestation.

A recent study by the Observatoria do Clima coalition has shown how the proposed amendment to the Forest Code would create loopholes that could increase emissions very substantially. If these amendments are not rejected, the Brazilian government’s record on protecting the forest and fighting climate change will be called into question.

Brazilian CSOs are at the forefront in Cancun in promoting action on REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which will promote the protection of large sections of the forest what, at the same time, promoting the human well-being of the indigenous people and other poor forest dwellers.

But at the moment, Brazil is an example, which other countries, especially rich ones, should emulate in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down climate change.

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Which road will Cancún take?

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

In this new post, Sean McDonagh, SSC, comments on and analyses Japan’s position not to agree to a new Kyoto Protocol.

An announcement on the eve of the UN Conference on Climate Change at Cancun that the government of Japan will not agree to second Kyoto Protocol, but will opt instead for a “single treaty” approach, took people here by surprise. The announcement seemed strange because the Kyoto Protocol was conceived and agreed on at the Kyoto Climate Change meeting in December 1997, after a lot of hard nose negotiations.

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, almost every country in the world recognised that burning fossil fuel was increasing the level of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, which in turn was warming the planet. Even at that time, scientific bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), and many National Academies of the Sciences were warning that global warming would lead to severe weather patterns, a rise in sea-levels endangering tens of millions of people living on coast plains, and cause the extinction of vast numbers of species. Despite this clear scientific advice, the Convention members could not agree on mandatory limits to carbon emissions. The reason was that the petrochemical, automobile, steel and utility companies in the U.S. had successfully lobbied the administration of President George Bush senior to block such action.

Everyone knows that, unless mandatory limits are set for using fossil fuel which is so central to modern affluence, no one will voluntarily take the pain that such cuts will involve. So, for the next five years nothing happened on the regulatory front. Finally, at the UN Climate Change Conference at Kyoto in 1997, many countries, including the U.S., accepted legally binding commitments to lower their carbon emissions by 5.2% to 7% below their 1990 levels by 2012. It took a lot of work by environmental, development and citizens groups to achieve this first step. In fairness, the Japanese government played a pivotal role in getting the Kyoto Protocol (KP) up and running. Now, 13 years later it is signalling that it will not support any extension of the KP beyond 2010, even if it means isolating itself at the UN. This is amazing for the country that gave birth to KP. It is also a clear breach of the multilateral process pursued by the UN in the COP meetings. Japan made the announcement before the negotiations even began. At the very least, this item should have been tabled for discussion at Cancun.

So, what is going on? Many times during the past 30 years when I wanted to understand a complex issue in the justice area, I turned to the writings of Martin Khor, currently the Director of the South Centre based in Geneva. For many years he was the Director of the Third World Network based in Penang, Malaysia. Happily, I saw on the daily schedule for November 30th, 2010, that Martin was one of the speakers at an afternoon conference.

I was not disappointed. In 20 minutes Martin explained that Japan’s decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol is linked to the unwillingness of the U.S. to enter the KP binding commitments process. Furthermore, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are also reluctant to commit to a second period of the KP. Even the EU, which promoted KP for over a decade, is now lukewarm about its commitment. This means that Norway is the only rich country ready to stand firmly behind KP. Understandably, Southern countries are annoyed that rich countries, which have historically enjoyed a high standard of living because of their use of fossil fuel, are now trying to wriggle out of legally binding commitments.

In Copenhagen the U.S. refused to enter KP process. It agreed instead to make a pledge to reduce GHG emission so that the average global temperature will not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. In a Climate Policy Brief, which Martin Khor distributed, he quotes “top scientists in a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which shows how disastrously off target a voluntary system will be”. “Instead of cutting their emissions by at least 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 as required (or below 40% as demanded by developing countries), rich countries will actually increase their emissions by 6% in a good scenario (based on upper end pledges and without the use of loopholes).”

According to the UNEP report, when the GHG emissions from developing countries are added to the figures from the above pledges, it will give rise to an average increase in global temperatures of between 2.5 to 5 degrees Celsius before 2100. This is a recipe for catastrophe.

Caritas Internationalis, which represents 165 Catholic charities from around the world, is challenging in a paper prepared for Cancun “all Parties to reaffirm their commitment to achieving a fair, legally binding deal to build on the Kyoto Protocol.”

Global climate change negotiations have reached cross roads here at Cancun. Either the Parties continue down the KP road of seeking mandatory, legally binding GHG reductions to be completed in 2012 in Durban, South Africa, or they opt for the soft option of mere pledges, which will lead to disaster.

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Protecting Forests

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

We add another blog contribution by Seán McDonagh SSC and are also very pleased to say that he keeps a personal blog at: http://earthcaremission.wordpress.com/ . Don’t hesitate to visit his blog and to leave a message. This particular blog entry concerns the very important REDD negotiations on protecting the forests.

———-

REDD (reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is shaping up to be a major topic at the UN Conference on Climate Change here in Cancun.  I wrote the article below at the Bali COP in 2007.  At that stage, I had a particular interest in REDD as I explain in the article.  Apart from the carbon sequestration dimension of REDD, I also saw in it a major potential for reforesting countries such as the Philippines which had been denuded in the 20th century.  I encouraged Catholic Development Agencies such as Caritas Internationalis, CAFOD and Trocaire to get involved in REDD.  Since Bali, I have been following other areas involved in the Convention, such as Adaptation.  But this year REDD is back again.  I am going to leave the 2007 article intact but will add a sequel, also in bold print at the end.

Bali 2007

My interest in ecology stems for my experience of working with the T’boli people in South Cotabato from 1980 to 1992. Within a few months of arriving in Lake Sebu, where the T’bolis live, I was convinced that protecting what remained of the tropical forest in the area was vital for the well being of the T’boli and also the settlers who lived in the lowlands.

Tropical deforestation has taken a huge toll on the Philippines.  When the Spaniards left the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, almost 75% of the tropical forests were still intact.  The onslaught on the forests began in earnest after World War II.  Companies (initially, foreign companies U.S., Japanese, Korean with connections with Filipino elite families) were given permission to clear-cut large tracts of forests. Legal commitments to reforest were seldom honoured, without any sanctions against the company or its owners. The tribal peoples, who lived in the areas, were never asked for permission to destroy their habitats, which they had managed for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years.  A few people made enormous fortunes, while the majority of the Filipinos, especially Tribal Filipinos, and the environment suffered.  Today, less than 10% of the Philippines is covered with tropical forests.  Sustainable agriculture in a tropical archipelago like the Philippines demands about 50% forest cover. Without it, soil erosion will increase dramatically and expensive irrigation systems will become useless, because the forests will not secrete water slowly into the rivers to sustain the flow during the dry season. (Extreme weather associated with climate change will worsen all these outcomes in the coming years).

The legacy of that plunder is now evident every time a typhoon causes flooding, massive landslides and terrible loss of life, especially among the poor.  Filipinos  could have managed their forests in a sustainable way and, in doing so, have secured long-term employment for hundreds of thousands of Filipino families.

What happened in the Philippines is mirrored world wide.  Between 2000 and 2005 tropical forests disappeared at approximately 10.4 million hectares each year.  These forests contain about 70% of the world’s biodiversity, and, about 60 million people, many of who are among the poorest of the poor on the planet.

A last minute reprieve for tropical forests may emerge here in discussions around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The IPCC scientists reckon that 20% of greenhouse emissions globally currently come from forest destruction. So, stablizining greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere at safe levels requires significant reduction in the current rate of desforestation.

One initative which is being pursued here in Bali is called REDD. The initials stand for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.  Apart of sequestering carbon, the REDD initiative has a number of priorites. It aims at preserving forests which contain significant levels of biodiversity, or are important for what is now called, ecosystems services (I find this term,which attempts to put a money value on everything, particularly inappropriate when referring to the living world. But it is now widely used even by some people such as Dr. Edward O Wilson, formerly of Harvard University, who has done so much through his resarch and writings to sensitize people to the overwhelming importance of protecting biodiversity).  These include water regulation, flood control and the protection of local species.

If verifiable and credible emission reductions can be generated, then the carbon markets could provide some revenue for REDD initiatives. According to Urip Hudiono writing for The Jakarta Poston November 30th ,  Indonesia could net US$2 billion in potential annual revenues from preserving the country’s forests and offering them as a carbon dioxide sink on the global carbon market.[1]

Cancun 2010

I have taken a fairly jaundiced view of carbon markets from the very beginning.  Market-based mechanisms to promote climate change were introduced into the Kyoto Protocol process by the U.S. in 1997. At that time, there was a feeling among elites across the globe that Markets, if properly structured, could do anything, and were much better instruments for promoting policies, than governmental regulations.  Light touch regulation is in vogue! Viewed from the perspective of 2010, we all know that light touch regulation was responsible for the collapse of the financial markets  in 2008.

On my way to Cancun, I picked up the current edition of The New Yorker, (November 29, 2010).  In a 10 page article entitled, What Good is Wall Street, John Cassidy wrote a searing critique of markets.  One of his main conclusions is that “much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.”  The same critique applies to the carbon market which is growing, except that almost all it does is ecologically worthless. In fact it is worse, because it fuels an acquisitive drive and takes attention away from real, concrete efforts which will be necessary to reduce emissions.  I remember attending a lecture at Nairobi (2006) which was sponsored by an international financial services company. Afterwards a carbon trader approached me and encouraged me to invest in the carbon market if I wanted to get a real good return on my money.

Bali 2007

If a significant REDD initiative is to succeed, the financial benefits must be, at least, on a par with the current economic incentives which are driving deforestation at unprecedented rates.  Any REDD initiative must therefore address the needs of rural forest dwellers and indigenous people.  In my own experience, ownership is a crucial issue. When a community owns the land there is a huge incentive to protect it.  It is unrealistic to expect people to protect a forest for the benefit of, either people who live downstream or the global population, unless they have some level of ownership of the forest.  On a national level, if countries such as the Philippines are expected to stop deforestation and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they will require additional financial support to achieve such goals.

Many of the NGOs here at Bali argue that REDD should have a stand alone fund, outside bodies such as the World Bank.  They are also worried that the new money might be diverting from existing aid flows such as a country’s  Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme.

REDD could deliver multiple benefits in the area of climate change, protecting biodiversity and securing a sustainable agricultural base for many countries, where food security is becoming a major issue. I am cautiously optimistic that the  ground-work for a REDDs initiative could be negotiated here in Bali.

Cancun 2010

Some of those issues discussed above are still being debated in Cancun.  The Climate Action Network (CAN) an umbrella group for many environment and development organizations of civil society, has taken a position on REDD at the beginning of the Cancun Conference.  For CAN, the primary goal of REDD must be to reduce emissions, not to contribute to a carbon market, which can easily take on a life of its own and do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  CAN wants all Parties in any agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and  the degradation of natural forests in developing countries with the objective of stopping deforestation completely by 2020.

Their second objective is that all Parties should collectively aim to conserve existing natural and modified natural forests by 2020. This is also in line with the recently concluded Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan.  More and more people are seeing that issues around climate change, water and biodiversity are all inter-linked.

CAN recognizes that these goals are contingent upon adequate, predictable and sustained finance provided in a transparent manner. Such finance could be in terms of quantified commitment. CAN points to a number of independent studies which indicate that the amount of money needed to halve emissions by 2020 would be in the region between, $15 and $35 billion by 2020.

CAN believes that some funding must be used to train people and build their capacity to manage their forests in a sustainable way.  From my own experience of reforestation in Lake Sebu, I know how important capacity building is for the success of a project.

The CAN position is also sensitive to both social and cultural factors involved in any reforestation project.  As I said in my 2007 article, my own experience is that when people enjoy ownership of a project it is much more likely to be a success in the medium and long-term.

The land tenure rights of Indigenous People must be given priority under REDD. These include their rights to land, food sovereignty, biodiversity, cultural practices and their traditional way of life.  As it is, most indigenous people are under tremendous cultural and financial pressure in the contemporary world. Tribal people and their languages are also facing extinction.  This is a great impoverishment for humankind.

As I know from experience in the Philippines, it is important that structures be put in place to avoid elite groups in a country capturing the benefits of REDD.  It was these elites (politicians and military) who benefitted from the destruction of the forests in the firsts instance.

CAN is also aware that the destruction of tropical forests is not just an issue for countries of the South. Someone in the North buys the lumber, so CAN is calling on all Parties to address the pressures which drive deforestation and degradation in the South, rather than leaving all the responsibility with Southern countries.

On the technical side CAN is suggesting that the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SABTA) be asked to give advice on the technical issues so that decisions on REDD can be taken next year in South Africa.

The CAN group tracking REDD reported to the daily meeting on October 30th 2010, that serious negotiations have not started on REDD issues. I will keep you posted.

Rich countries often speak about corruption and the need for good governance in developing countries. CAN is concerned about governance issues and believes that this must be met by the independent and verifiable monitoring of REDD.  The sticking point here for many countries of the South is that other interests, such as the World Bank and the General Environment Fund (GEF), would like to play a managing role in disbursing the funds.  This is not acceptable to many countries in the South because of their experience of being saddled with horrendous Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s devised by the World Bank/IMF in order to pay off their debts to First World financial institutions and countries.  The political economist Susan George pointed out in her book Debt Boomerang that, in the period from 1980s till 1992, $420 billion were transferred from poor countries to rich counties by external debt payments alone!  A classic case of the poor subsidizing the rich!!!

In my book, Greening the Church (1995), I give a number of examples of how SAPs hastened the destruction of tropical forests in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. Critics of the World Bank point out that it still spends more money funding fossil fuel energy projects in the South and emerging economies than it does on renewable energy.   Most Southern countries want the financing of REDD to come under the COP itself, rather than the GEF.

It is always good to hear what the other side is saying, so I visited the GEF at its stand at the Conference Centre.  One of their pamphlets The GEF incentive Mechanism for Forests: A New REDD+ Multilateral Finance Program touts GEF’s competence in financing Sustainable Forest Management.  It claims that, since its inception in 1991, the GEF has financed over 300 projects and programmes focusing on forest conservation and management in developing countries. The total GEF allocation to forest initiatives during that period amounted to more than $1.6 billion. It also helped leverage $5 billion from other sources. While the amount appear to be significant it is paltry in terms of what needs to happen in the near future if tropical forests are to protected and expanded.


[1] Urip Hudiono, “Indonesia could net US2$billion from forest conservation”, The Jakarta Post, November 30, 2007, page 13.

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A review of what has been achieved, and what needs to happen at Cancún

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a contribution by Fr. Sean McDonagh SCC, who writes about his experiences in Cancún.

On Saturday November 27, 2010, when I came to the Conference Centre the journey took about 15 minutes. On Monday morning (November 29th ) it took almost two hours. Many of the participants were stranded on buses, literally inching their way towards the Conference Centre (Moonlight Terrace) when President Filipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa, the President of Mexico, opened the proceedings for the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the UN Convention on Climate Change.

Many of the delegates were annoyed at the fact that police and army where not more efficient in handling the traffic. The heavy police and military presence was there to protect the President from the narco-terrorist gangs, which are so powerful here in Mexico. Drug traffickers have stepped up attacks against security forces and government officials since President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops and federal police to crush the cartels in their strongholds.

There were no glitches this morning (Tuesday November 30th 2010). The bus time was back to 15 minutes.  I still think that the communication facilities at Cancun are not as good as in previous COPs from Nairobi in 2006 to Copenhagen in 2009.  For example, the bank of computers is much smaller than at previous COPs.

On the plus side, many of the members of the Group of 77 (mainly countries from the South) and Arab countries praised Mexico for the hard work it has invested in healing a lot of the distrust, which characterized the final few days of the Copenhagen.  This is a major achievement as there was every possibility after Copenhagen that the UN Convention on Climate on Climate Change would just fade away.

No one expects that the Cancun meeting will redeem the failures at Copenhagen in 2009. The people I have spoken to, mainly from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), hope that Cancun will put in place significant stepping stones towards achieving a full, fair, ambitious and binding treaty at COP 17 in South Africa in 2012.

The Executive Secretary, Christina Figueres, in her opening statement at COP 16 called for decisive action at Cancun for three reasons:

  • The World Meteorological Organisation has said that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is at their highest level since pre-industrial times;
  • The poorest and most vulnerable need predictability and sufficient assistance to face the serious problems that they did not cause;
  • The multilateral climate change process enshrined in the COP must remain the trusted channel for addressing the climate change crisis.

She reviewed, from a fairly optimistic perspective, what has been achieved at the various meetings since Copenhagen.

  • A commitment to live up to the finance pledges made in Copenhagen. Developed countries have announced pledges totaling US$ 28 billion dollars and many of them are now making information available on the disbursement of these funds. She expressed satisfaction with this development, but she went on to encourage developed countries to complete the work on their pledges in a transparent and timely manner;
  • A growing convergence that a balanced set of decisions under both the COP and the CMP (the Conference of the members of the Kyoto Protocol) could be an achievable outcome here in Cancun;
  • A willingness to stick with the text under the aegis of the Kyoto Protocol. At Copenhagen developing countries were annoyed when, towards the end of the first week, Denmark introduced a paper which seemed to bypass the multilateral negotiation process;
  • A willingness to begin to put the Bali Action Plan into practice.  The Bali Road Map was hammered out at the COP 13 in 2007 at Bali in Indonesia. It gave a mandate to take action simultaneously on a number of fronts to stabilize the global climate. These included mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology transfer.

Secretary Christiana Figueres  said that she is under no illusion about the magnitude of the tasks to be accomplished at Cancun. Outstanding issues include:

  • The formalisation of mitigation proposals put forward by Parties in 2010 and the accompanying accountability processes for their implementation;
  • The mobilization of long-term finance, the creation of a new fund and the accompanying accountability for its delivery;
  • The understanding of fairness that will guide long-term mitigation efforts;
  • And how to send a signal from Cancun that governments wish to continue engaging the private sector through the Kyoto Protocol market mechanisms beyond 2012.

COP16 here in Cancun promises to be an exciting, but also exhausting 12 days. The stakes could hardly be higher. They involve the well-being of the planet, of those of us who are alive today and all future generations.

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A Time for Prayer

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Praying together constitutes a wonderful means of engaging common and shared challenges and threats. Therefore, I want to post this invitation for prayers for the UN Climate Change Conference, as posted on the ICN network, Independent Catholic News.

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SJ 4.2 and the Planet Wide Environmental Challenges

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This blog contribution turns out to be playful and serious at the same time. It aims at highlighting the responsibilities of institutions as the Society of Jesus, the Ignatian Family and the Roman Catholic Church – and not only these – in the midst of the planet wide environmental challenges. It attempts to offer a “network” frame to better understand these responsibilities. I am not sure it will work, but I surely do hope so, when I continue to hear the message heralded by the media that we should not really expect much from COP16.

There is fascination when one looks at the phenomenon of the World Wide Web – it represents a complex network in full evolution. That is the reason why expressions as Web 2.0 or even Web 3.0 are used. It struck me that I could do something similar with regard to the Society of Jesus, so as to sketch the complex network it represents. And while doing so, I was also struck how this network representation provides us with a powerful tool to discern how to serve the world and God’s people, precisely in the midst of the planet wide environmental crisis.

SJ 1.0 represents, so to say, the Jesuits as individuals. They are people who have made a particular choice in their lives and who have gone through a process of formation and spiritual growth, in which discernment takes an important place. Jesuits share the engagement with the Spiritual Exercises and they belong to an organisation ruled by Constitutions.

Jesuits are also organized in provinces. It is their primary network – their Provincial knows each one of them and assigns missions. We could call this network:SJ 2.0. In their missions, assigned to them by their provincials,Jesuits have always had collaborators and friends, but recently they have become more aware that these really share in their missions and take responsibilities in these, also at the level of discerning and deciding how these missions are best articulated. This is, so to say, SJ 2.1. Of course, this leads to reflections on SJ 1.1: how does the individual Jesuit relate to non-Jesuit collaborators and friends?

Recently, Jesuits have become more deeply aware of regional networking, precisely because they experience differences at that level: there are Indian Jesuits, European Jesuits, US Jesuits, Latin American Jesuits, African Jesuits, etc. There is a level of identity and mission that reflects these regions, and it is given shape in conferences of provincials. This level could be called SJ 3.0, and we have become aware of significant and interesting, challenging, differences in our perceptions of the world. Of course, at this level the relationships with collaborators arise in new ways, that are often culturally determined: meet SJ 3.1.

And then, there is one more level, and it is crucial: SJ 4.0, the universal, planet wide Society of Jesus. Jesuits have that sense that they have places to feel at home all over the world – they belong to and feel part of a really big organisation, truly transnational. Here we find a solidarity and a loyalty that areborn deep in the personal experiences at level SJ 1.0 and that find concrete expressions at levels SJ 2.0 and SJ 3.0. And again, Jesuits are learning how important it is to change the o in 1, also at level 4: SJ 4.1 is emerging as a solid reality.

In the perspective of Ignatius Loyola, SJ 4.0 receives great importance. He enshrines this level of network in the so-called fourth vow of obedience to the Pope concerning the missions. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is the person in charge of the broadest perspective, of a universal view on the world. We could, therefore, – and even if Popes are human beings and may not always be capable of this broad view – explain the fourth vow and SJ 4.0 as follows: whatever concrete mission Jesuits are involved in, they are invited to heed the universal perspective, to become aware that in the very concreteness of their experiences and actions the larger vision of God over the universe is at work and at stake.

Networks SJ 4.0 and SJ 4.1 strike me as particularly important with regard to planet wide environmental challenges. The Society of Jesus and the Ignatian Family (indicating the Jesuits and their collaborators and friends … the expression may not be the best, but I use it for lack of better) are organized so as to have a universal and planet wide perspective and scope of action, even and precisely when they are committed locally and concretely. They enjoy the resources and possibilities of an organisation that can address worldwide challenges, such as climate change. Moreover, they can take into account the differences at levels 3, 2 and 1, in a spirit of creative collaboration in solidarity. Jesuits and collaborators in various parts of the world, in the rich countries, in the emerging countries, in the developping countries, in those countries and places that already suffer the consequences of climate change, belong to one body that exists in a profound solidarity at level 4.

One could even be tempted to introduce SJ 4.2: the universal Society of Jesus and the universal Ignatian Family are becoming aware of their relationship to the planet, to nature, to creatures of all kind, alive or not. SJ 4.2 means that Jesuits, collaborators and friends begin to act together with nature, accepting creatures as partners in the mission of creation. The fourth vow, the vow of universality, concerns not only human beings, but the whole spectrum of creatures. The challenge is to take into account, in concrete missions, the existence of these creatures, to act out of the awareness that our lives depend upon them and are lived in solidarity with them. The alliance that expresses our belonging to the same creation becomes the scope of the word “universal”. The existence of SJ 4.2, of course, invites us also to think of SJ 1.2, SJ 2.2 and SJ 3.2. We are learning to ask the question: what does our alliance with nature and with the planet mean at personal, provincial, regional and planet wide perspective. Our network is becoming richer and fuller, but also more demanding.

SJ 4.2 opens up a very interesting perspective on planet wide challenges and on the climate change crisis. It reveals a hitherto unsuspected mission and opportunity, an expression of what it means to belong to the Society of Jesus or to the Ignatian Family.

Is it necessary to say that I suspect the existence of RCC 4.2, where RCC stands for Roman Catholic Church? And why should we think that RCC is the last step? But, at least, I would suggest to take seriously both SJ 4.2 and RCC 4.2.

Sean McDonagh: Setting the Stage

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Follows a contribution by Sean McDonagh, SSC. It provides us with information on the concrete conditions, in which COP16 takes place, as well as with some of the expectations. (JH)

I arrived in Cancun, Mexico yesterday, and registered today, (November 27th 2010) as a participant at the UN Climate Change Conference. This is the 16th meeting of Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the UN Convention on Climate Change.  As I write the organisers are still putting the final touches to the Conference Centre. Many representatives from NGOs are quite critical of the Conference logistics. A number of meeting rooms have only a curtain separating it from the next one so, if the loudspeakers are turned up, hearing what people say will be very difficult. In additions, the hotel at which the negotiations will take place is about 5 kilometres away from the main Centre. This is the first time, in my experience, that this has happened. Finally, the cost of everything, including food, is astronomical.

Still, it is important to mention a number of positive initiatives which the Mexican government has taken. With an estimated 15,000 people travelling to Cancun for the UN Climate Change Conference, the organizers are attempting to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and to offset whatever cannot be avoided.  There are two parts to the strategy:

  • The first is directed at those who have travelled from all over the world to attend the conference. All delegates are encouraged to offset their international transport emissions. Delegates will be able to calculate their carbon footprint on-line at computer terminals at the conference. They are invited to make contributions to offset these emissions in a variety of energy-related projects in Mexico or elsewhere.

The second is aimed at minimising greenhouse gas emissions during the 12 days of the Conference in Cancun:.

  • Much of the energy used during the UN Conference will come from renewable sources such as photovoltaic cells and wind generation.
  • Delegations from the participating countries will be provided with hybrid vehicles for their transport during the Conference.
  • An eco-efficiency hotel programme is expected to avoid the consumption of approximately 200,000 cubic metres of water and the release of 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Finally, around 10,000 trees and bushes will be planted here in Cancun.

Those are a few of the positive initiatives here at the Cancun Climate Change Conference which is trying to pick up the pieces after the dismal failure  to produce a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty to curb greenhouse gases emissions at Copenhagen in December 2009

On the eve of the Cancun Conference, it is clear that the pledges which were made by 80 countries to reduce greenhouse gases have fallen well below what is needed to stabilise the world’s climate at below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.  Research by a top group of climate scientists has shown that, even if countries honoured their commitments, there would still be a 5 billion tonne gap each year. If, however, only weak measures are taken this will mean the emission gap could be as high as 12 billion tonnes annually by 2020. [1]

Yvo de Boer, the Dutch civil servant, who guided the UN Climate Change Conference for the past four years, resigned in the summer of 2010 to work with private companies on climate change initiatives. In the week before the Cancun meeting he said that, “Although many nations pay lip service to (reducing greenhouse gases), most of them, deep in their hearts, are unsure. In fact, many developing nations fear that the intent of the West is to use climate as an excuse to keep them poor and maintain the current status quo.”[2] Such distrust does not augur well for a positive outcome to the negotiations.

All eyes will be on the negotiating posture of both the United State and China at Cancun.  Unless they are willing to compromise, little will be achieved. Unfortunately, the omens are not very favourable.  The Obama administration was not able to get a climate change bill through the Senate earlier this year.  Now, with the US House of Representative controlled by Republicans and the Democrats majority in the Senate seriously reduced, it is difficult to see any real progress on the Energy Bill. Until now the Chinese government has said that it wants to see major cuts in greenhouse gas emission from the US and other industrialised nations, before it will make pledges to reduce its emissions.


[1] John Vidal, “UN says emission pledges well short of climate change goal,” The Guardian, Wednesday 24 November, 2010, page 11.

[2] John Vidal, “Poor countries suspicious of climate talks – former UN Chief,” The Guardian, November 25th 2010,  page 20.

Categories: Uncategorized

COP16: Context and Hopes

November 28, 2010 2 comments

I would like to highlight some of the important elements of the context, in which COP16 takes place. I will, in a second move, formulate some of the hopes one can cherish at this moment. (1) The health bulletin of our planet and the threats to human and planetary life have worsened: we continue to deplete – and at an accelerated pace – the natural resources of our planet; CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere – the consequence of our lifestyles – are still increasing and heating up of the planet rapidly; biodiversity is suffering. (2) There is much less public interest with regard to the global environmental crisis than was the case at COP15 in Copenhagen. (3) From a political perspective, matters don’t seem to have improved. In my own country, rather than discussing the urgent matters at hand, the media focus on the quarrel between some of our ministers: who will take the pride to head the Belgian delegation at Cancún? Such discussions go on, while we now know that Belgium has one of the worst ecological footprints in the world. In the USA, the hope felt when Obama was elected, has now dissipated again. We cannot, therefore, expect serious moves from one of the main actors. Meanwhile, the so-called emerging countries (such as China, India, Russia and Brasil) are becoming more important, not only because they claim an ever growing share of the natural resources for their own development, but also because they begin to define their own environmental policies and because their voice at the international conference tables becomes more important. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily good news for the developping countries and the poor countries: they continue to be exploited for their resources and do not really acquire the necessary means and tools to adapt to global climate change. (4) There is growing awareness of the seriousness and urgency of the situation, as well as of the necessity of adaptation. This is exemplified by the viewpoint of a prestigious weekly as The Economist in its issue of Nov 27 to Dec 3, as well as in its The World in 2011. But it is painful to see that this growing awareness is often conceived of in the perspective of economic growth as we understand it today: those, who have the resources, will be able to adapt; adaptation will mainly result from private action, although public action will be necessary also; there may be some help for the poor, but, and I quote what I consider to be a highly cynical remark, “unfortunately, such adaptation has always meant large numbers of deaths”. There seems to be little understanding of the fact that the resources to adapt are limited. Analyses as the ecological footprint, show that these resources will, in the end, be available only to a very limited number of privileged people. I think, as I expressed it in another blog contribution, that there are serious shortcomings in this kind of approach, but it is still the way of thinking of many of us. (5) Scientific research on the complex reality of climate change as well as on historical precedents, is unfolding at a rapid pace, and it points to the seriousness of the situation. Moreover, the attacks on the integrity of climate scientists have been proven unfair, and one can only regret the time and energy that have been lost in these fights although the painful experiences have also made scientists more aware of the need to communicate clearly and efficiently their findings and insights. (6) There is a growing awareness of the role churches and religions can play, as is shown in the commitment of the World Council of Churches. Unfortunately, not very much has been done in fact and there is still a long way to go on the level of mobilizing people and energies. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church.

In this context arise new hopes. (1) It is very well possible that the lesser political profile of COP16 (as compared to COP15) will provide a direct context, in which it is more easy to reach the international agreements that are more necessary than ever. Moreover, the more important role played by the emerging countries may open new and creative avenues towards international collaboration and good governance. A main concern remains the question who will be advocating the case for the poor countries and countries in development. (2) Scientists are more than before in a position to play a prophetic role: their science is improving rapidly, they have learned to communicate better, and they also increasingly advocate for a voice that is insufficiently present at the table of negotiations, the voice of nature – this is a point clearly made by Michel Serres in his Le temps des crises. Indeed, all too often the voice of nature is not heard and, therefore, natural limits and constraints are insufficiently taken into account when we design economic and political approaches to the crisis. (3) The voice of young people in a context in which they are globally connected through the wordwide web, is becoming more important. They are a force to change mentalities and interpretations of the world and realities of the planet. This is also true of the voice of the indigenous people: their approaches to nature offer perspectives that can enrich the ways in which we situate ourselves in our world. (4) There is a need to re-think our economic models. The articles in The Economist show, I think, that there is a growing awareness of the seriousness of the crisis, but also that new economic models have to be developed, in which  sustainability, ecological footprint and limits are taken into account, and in which also the poorest of the people on our planet have a voice. A continuing emphasis on mitigation is necessary, although some think that the time for mitigation has passed by. Indeed, a one-sided emphasis on adaptation may wel be at risk to forget what mitigation states clearly: there are lifestyles that are responsible for this crisis and that will continue to aggravate it. The accent on mitigation helps us to pay attention to lifestyles that are not without consequences on the lives of the poor and on nature and the life of the planet.  (5) There is opportunity for religions and churches to speak with clear voice and to become more aware of the constructive and creative role they can play, particularly when they find ways to collaborate. For Christians, and particularly for Roman Catholics who belong to a well organised international network, the task is not only an ethical one about social and international justice. It also entails a re-thinking of theologies and worldviews in the form of a creation theology that is capable of viewing the world and the universe as a connected whole in space and time, of which human beings form a special part, as they are capable, as a part of creation, to voice creation’s self-reflection and spiritual search. Moreover, structurally speaking, as a complex international organisation with a presence at levels of political advocacy, media, research, education and in the field, the Roman Catholic Church offers opportunities to efficiently address a crisis at an international level.

Climate Migrants/Refugees: An Open Wound

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

In the executive summary of the 2009 Care publication In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement I read the following statement: “Policy decisions made today will determine whether migration becomes a matter of choice amongst a range of adaptation options, or merely a matter of survival due to a collective failure by the international community to provide better alternatives”. Climate migrants or refugees – the vocabulary seems still undecided and constitutes a juridical debate which should, in my opinion, take into account the intimate connection between climate change and the violent conflicts it involves, thus making the expression “refugees” adequate – are already on the move today and some estimate their number may grow to 200 million by 2050. They represent an enormous challenge to the international community and (will) call upon the resources of many humanitarian organizations, amongst which the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The JRS mission statement with its threefold focus – to accompany, to serve, to advocate – may provide us with some insight as to how to address the realities of climate migrants/refugees. These three verbs do not only indicate that we have a responsibility to care for refugees, to assist them in their own experiences and to make their voices heard. They also point out that the encounter with refugees and their experiences changes all of us, that refugees and migrants in their pain reveal the need to change our world if they are to live with dignity, that their experiences as if through a broken prism shed light on steps that we all can and have to take to build a more dignified and sustainable world. This is also the case with people who are on the move because of climate change and environmental deterioration: they show us what an inhospitable environment means for people and how it involves them in conflicts over meager resources, they remind us of the conditions to be put in place to make this earth a home to all of us: we have to mitigate not only our greenhouse gas emissions but also our exorbitant and selfish consumerist ways of life as well as our tendency to create safe havens for “our” people as over against the “others”; we have to share burdens in working out adaptation resilience, particularly for those who suffer most. Environmental refugees or migrants, therefore, are not merely a barometer indicating the facts and realities of climate change, they also point towards greater solidarity and sustainable patterns of life and show us that, one day, each one of us may become one such refugee for forgetting our embeddedness in nature and the fact that we depend upon one another for dignified life. By being present with the refugees, by listening to their experiences, by learning to speak their voice, JRS people transmit an experience of conversion that may change the world. Climate migrants/refugees lead us into a similar experience of conversion that will help us to address climate change in a very real and effective way. In the wound, there is blood of life.

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