Fr Leonard Chiti SJ says the rich must pay up to protect the poor from the climate crisis.
When I have asked people in Scotland what they think of when they think of climate change, they will talk about recycling, about renewable energy, maybe walking instead of driving or eating less meat.
When I ask one of my fellow Zambians what they think about, the answer is very different – devastating fiooding, prolonged droughts caused by blistering heat, extreme weather and cyclones, and an increasingly unpredictable environment completely un- suited to rural agricultural life.
This is the harsh reality of the climate crisis, that it is experienced in wildly different ways in different parts of the world, and it is usually the people who have contributed least to it that are suffering its worst consequences, as we’ve recently seen with flooding of Pakistan.
I travelled to Glasgow last November to represent SCIAF and the people of Zambia at COP26. I was tremendously impressed by the people of Glasgow, with whom we marched through the streets with on a rainy Saturday, calling on world leaders to act on climate change.
However, it seems those calls fell largely on deaf ears. World leaders did not manage to make a breakthrough at COP26, and some of the pledges made at the conference are still to be fulfilled.
This leaves countries like mine in an incredibly difficult position, with more and more of the government’s budget spent to put up barriers against the climate crisis instead of ensuring that everyone has access to education, health, water, food and the basics in life to which all God’s children are entitled.
However, one glimmer of hope at COP26 came from the Scottish Government. In an act of solidarity with countries like mine, the Scottish Government pledged £2m for the issue of Loss and Damage at the conference.
This announcement reverberated around the discussion halls and was loudly praised by developing countries, as Scotland became the first developed country in the world to pledge money for this issue.
Many now hope that other countries will follow Scotland’s lead at COP27 in Egypt later this year, and if they do, Scotland will have really helped secure a tremendous legacy from COP26 in Glasgow.
Loss and Damage is UN jargon for the impact of climate change that is already experienced. As things stand, the global powers are refusing to give financial sup- port for this, because they are afraid that it appears to be an admission of responsibility for causing the climate crisis.
Instead, all that the UN can agree on climate change is actions to prevent future impacts. But what does that do for my people in Zambia who are suffering now?
The victims of flooding, droughts, heatwaves and cy- clones are essentially being left with no access to justice for this climate crisis that they did not cause.
At COP27 in Egypt, it is hoped that the Scottish Government can champion this issue of Loss and Damage and maybe spur a breakthrough. But I also think that it’s important for the Church to be outspoken on this topic.
That’s why this week, working with colleagues, I have published a paper reflecting on Loss and Damage through the lens of the Gospel and Church teachings. The paper, Signs of the Times: A Theological Reflection on Loss and Damage, makes the case that this issue is the priority issue for people living in poverty across the world: using the terminology of the Church, the preferential option for the poor.
The paper argues that the current way of seeing the issue of climate change reflects a global system more concerned with consumption and gluttony than love, justice, and the pursuit of human dignity for all.
At the moment, the global policy framework on climate change seeks to tinker around the edges, pledging efforts towards reducing the possible future impacts of climate change.
But this denies the reality of the world today, the signs of the times, that climate change is a real and present danger causing suffering to millions. For the sake of those people, and for the atonement of those responsible, a restorative Loss and Damage fund is required which can help the process of healing for both victims and perpetrators.
This can help create balance to the injustice of the climate emergency, nourishing global harmony instead of disunity and exploitation. That is why I am proud to support SCIAF’s Time to Pay Up campaign, which calls on the new Prime Minister to follow Scotland’s lead and champion the issue of Loss and Damage at COP27. We would welcome your support in this, and you can sign up at their website.
Truly to love our neighbours around the world, to show solidarity with them and do what is right for them, we need our leaders to commit to helping alleviate their suffering now.
The fight against climate change is not just a fight for future generations, as it is often presented, it is a fight for people already on God’s earth and who are struggling to survive and thrive.
Through this, we can aspire to the vision of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tuti, that we can one day-dream as one human family.
Fr Leonard Chiti is Jesuit Provincial for Southern Africa and member of SCIAF’s Committee on Integral Human Development.