Signal of hope must be sent to millions

Catholic leaders are stepping out to lobby for an inclusive world deal to deliver climate justice to developing nations. Nigeria’s Archbishop John Onaiyekan is one of them. This is his plea for climate justice COPENHAGEN for the voiceless

Throughout centuries of economic development we have harmed our environment to the extent that today our changing climate puts millions of lives at risk, mostly in poor communities in the global south.

The Book of Genesis tells us the Lord created the earth and put us on it, expecting us to tend his garden.
Mankind has neglected this important responsibility. I believe God made enough resources available for the whole of humanity.

For the sake of both our and future generations, those who consume more than their share should review the way they sustain their lives and fuel their economies. Solidarity is needed now more than ever; it is a matter of justice.

Last week world leaders met in New York in an attempt to create the political will needed for an ambitious climate agreement in Copenhagen. This week the talks continued in Bangkok to help craft a deal by the end of the year.

I attended as a member of a joint delegation organised by the Catholic aid alliances (CIDSE) and Caritas Internationalis, together the largest humanitarian and development alliance in the world, fighting poverty in more than 200 countries.

As the archbishop from Abuja, Nigeria, I know from direct experience that a fair and effective climate deal is crucial to avoid further misery for southern communities.

Let me illustrate this with an example from my country. Earlier this year the sudden arrival from the northern part of country of 15 truckloads of Fulani pastoralists in a rural locality in the middle belt of Nigeria generated fear and anxiety in the local population.

When the matter was reported, the government decided to send them home again. The issue generated a lot of debate, as the free settlement of Nigerians was called into question.

But why did the Fulani people move south in the first place?

The process of desertification on the northern fringes of our country had made it impossible for cattle herders to survive in their traditional grazing grounds. Thus climate change has ruined the lives of Nigerian cattle herders who once lived in harmony with nature.

Ironic, don’t you think?

The poor people caught in this drastic situation are unaware that they suffer the consequences of a problem created by people thousands of kilometres away.

Why should they pay for the carelessness of others?

This is why I believe climate change is a matter of justice.

Developed countries must take the lead by making significant reductions in their emissions. They must support developing countries in developing low-carbon economies.

We therefore appeal to our heads of state, asking them to send a signal of hope to millions of people whose hopes are washed away by floods, covered by the dust of advancing desertification or shattered by violent natural disasters.

The coming months will prove whether all people will be able to look with more confidence to their future, or whether a lack of solidarity and justice will put it at risk.

John Onaiyekan is the archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, and a member of the CIDSE-Caritas Internationalis Climate Justice delegation

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