Pope Francis calls for lower emissions, higher ambition in UN summit

“The time has come for a change of course. Let us not rob the new generations of hope in a better future,”
Published Dec 14, 2020

Pope Francis called on world leaders to raise their targets towards a net-zero emissions world during the UN Virtual Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December.

“The time has come for a change of course.
Let us not rob the new generations of hope in a better future,” he said.

Held on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the summit provided a platform for nations to declare stronger commitments, covering mitigation, adaptation, and climate finance.

In his address, Pope Francis pledged the undertaking of Vatican City to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through intensifying environmental management efforts. These include the rational and efficient use of water and energy, sustainable transportation, reforestation, and proper waste management.

Citing how COVID-19 and climate change both affect the poorest the most, he stated of the human responsibility to promote “a culture of care, which places human dignity and the common good at the center”.

Pope Francis also shared the initiatives of the Holy See, such as implementing ecological education in Catholic schools and universities and the Economy of Francesco, a global youth movement for more sustainable economic models. These aim to create new paths for development, which “favors a cultural model of development and sustainability focused on fraternity and an alliance between human beings and the environment”.

Higher ambition
More than 70 heads of states and local government heads announced more ambitious targets to urgently limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030, per the Paris Agreement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom announced the country’s plan to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 68% by 2030. It aims to initiate a Green Industrial Revolution that would lead to further decarbonization of its economy and the creation of thousands of jobs. He further declared the goal for the UK to be the “Saudi Arabia” for wind power in the following decades.

France, represented by President Emmanuel Macron, highlighted that 6 billion Euros were mobilized last year for climate finance, with 1.6 billion Euros directed towards climate adaptation. He pledged to reduce subsidies on fossil fuels and affirmed the European Union’s commitment to cut its emissions by 55% by 2030.

President Xi Jinping announced China’s goal of peaking emissions before 2030, when its goal of 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP is expected to be attained. The nation aims to increase its share of cleaner energy consumption to 25% and increase its forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters, on its way to achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.

The summit is an important event on the road to COP26 to be held in Glasgow next year, with an overarching focus on achieving a net-zero emissions world by 2050. Key themes include energy transition, transport, finance, nature-based solutions, and adaptation and resilience.

Notable high-emitting countries including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Australia did not speak during the summit due to a lack of higher ambition in their climate pledges. The Philippines also did not participate in the summit, as its government is racing to submit its first NDC before the end of 2020.

Written by John Leo Algo
Living Laudato Si Philippines Logo
JL is an advocate of climate change education, just transition to renewables, promoting energy efficiency, nature-based solutions, cleaner air quality, sustainable lifestyles, and climate justice who has represented the Philippines and the youth sector in different capacities during the global and regional UN climate conferences since 2017. He is also a citizen journalist, writing climate and environmental stories that have been published in international and local media platforms such as The Huffington Post, Asia Sentinel, Rappler, Sun Star, and The Manila Times. He is a two-time fellow of Climate Tracker, the world's largest youth-led climate journalism network. He is one of the co-authors of the first Philippine Climate Change Assessment Report series, the local equivalent to the IPCC reports. He is the recipient of the Miguel R. Magalang Climate Leadership Award during the ceremonies in the Philippine Senate and named the SDG 15 Youth Champion by the 2030 Project in 2017. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in December 2018.
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