One of the World’s Most Catholic Nations Answers the Pope’s Call on Climate Change

In the Philippines, following Pope Francis’ demand for radical reform is a matter of both faith and survival.

Pope Francis and Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle embrace during the pope's visit to the Philippines in January. (Photo: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Jul 7, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The Philippines—one of the countries most at risk from global warming—is taking up Pope Francis’ dramatic call for action on climate change.

At a Tuesday event attended by more than 1,000 priests and other leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, Manila’s charismatic (and at 58, relatively youthful) archbishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, put his signature on a petition to world leaders demanding swift and ambitious action to avert catastrophic climate change.

“Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts,” reads the petition, which has been sponsored by a coalition of more than 140 Catholic groups called the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

“A first round of 75 parishes have already received the campaign materials and will start collecting signatures in Sunday masses,” Lou Arsenio, ecology ministry coordinator of the Manila Archdiocese and GCCM coordinator for the Philippines, said in a statement. “Many more will follow in the next few weeks as we scale the campaign across the country. This will be huge. When Filipinos commit to mobilize, they really mean it.”

So, Why Should You Care? At current levels of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures are likely to rise 4 degrees Celsius or more by 2100, unleashing catastrophic climate change. Nations have begun submitting plans to the United Nations for how they intend to cut oil and coal use, increase renewable energy, and conserve forests. But so far it’s not clear that their commitment will pull that number down significantly; nor are these targets legally binding. The petition’s organizers believe it may help spur political leaders to act more effectively.

RELATED: The Church Challenges the State to Take Radical Action on Climate Change

The petition’s organizers hope to get about 10 million signatures in the Philippines alone, said GCCM cofounder Ciara Shannon.

“The Philippines is a very devout country,” said Shannon about a nation in which 86 percent of the 98.4 million citizens are Catholic and 95 percent are Christian. “So I think for the Philippines, yes, Cardinal Tagle’s endorsement is wonderful.”

“But the Philippines also loves Papa Francisco,” she added. “I was there among the 6 to 7 million people lining the streets when Pope Francis was there in January.”

Even among politically and socially conservative Filipinos, Shannon believes, that adoration will help build support for the environmental and economic transformations that Pope Francis called for in his June encyclical.

Geography and demography may do the rest. Typhoon season has always been deadly in the Philippines, but sea-level rise due to global warming and coastal population growth have put more Filipinos than ever at risk of suffering from the consequences of climate change. More than 6,000 people died in Typhoon Haiyan’s 15- to 20-foot storm surges and 145-mile-per-hour winds when the storm struck in November 2013.

“I think because of Typhoon Haiyan, a lot of people in the Philippines now are aware of what climate change is,” said Shannon.

She is also Asia coordinator for a multifaith climate change action network called OurVoices, which is working with leaders and members of Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and other faiths to build support for the petition’s climate action call. OurVoices hopes to deliver millions of signatures to world political leaders when they meet in Paris in December to negotiate a binding global climate change treaty, she said.

Shannon believes that by combining the support of diverse faiths into one message, the petition will help spur world leaders to deliver better results in Paris than they did at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, where faith groups were much less overtly involved.

“Do petitions make any difference at all? I think if you’ve got large numbers, they do,” Shannon said. “Especially when they’re endorsed by some of the top religious leaders in the world.”