Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, was among the Catholic dignitaries who attended the April 28 meeting at the Vatican where both environmental and human rights issues were the focus of discussion among scientists, activists, and religious personalities. With regard to the issue of carbon emissions, Cardinal Onaiyekan called on industrialized countries to themselves take the lead role while not demanding poorer countries to “stay where they are.”
Speaking on April 28, the Cardinal added, “The rich countries who have already gone very far ahead of the poor countries ought not to be demanding of that the poor countries must still stay where they are for fear of damaging the environment, when it is they who are damaging the environment in more than 80% of the situation.” In an interview with Vatican Radio, the cardinal added, “The rest of the world will have to recognize and acknowledge the needs of the poor countries in this whole discussion, because despite all that we are saying about reducing carbon emission, we are only talking about reducing, not eliminating - which means even America, China, Russia, Europe, they are all still throwing carbon emissions into the air - so they should allow a small country like Nigeria to start its own factories,” he said.
The meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences, brought together scientists, political leaders, and religious figures to talk about climate change, and the Sustainable Development Goals being proposed by the United Nations.
Praising the various presentations at the conference, Cardinal Onaiyekan said that religious leaders have a duty to be “properly informed,” adding, “We begin to realize that since this affects every living people on the earth, the religious people have their own role to play.” The Nigerian churchman said it is the duty of fellow religious to speak to “the danger that is hanging over everybody,” including policymakers.
Entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” and sponsored by the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences at the Vatican , the conference featured U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Other luminaries included economist Jeffrey Sachs and climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Ramanathan told Vatican Radio, “We have not taken any action on climate change in spite of overwhelming science.” He asserted that climate change, which some attribute to anthropogenic sources rather than cyclical natural causes, is “a huge moral and ethical issue” especially since the lives of future generations are at stake. “The other important moral dimension is that most of the emission of this global-warming pollutants is coming from the wealthy one billion, but the worst consequences of that will be experienced by the poorest three billion,” he said.
Dr. Ramanathan added, “Once it has become a moral issue, scientists like me have no authority to speak about it, then I think of this whole climate change problem has gone into the domains of religion, and the Catholic Church, I feel, is one of the most powerful supporters of protecting the earth and being good stewards of the planet.”
The issue of global climate change and the Catholic Church’s response has produced varied responses among Catholics. Writing in the pages of First Things, Maureen Mullarkey said that Pope "Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologised propaganda."
Christopher Monckton, a Catholic who is a hereditary British peer, said that Pope Francis is demeaning the Catholic Church that he is sworn to uphold. Speaking on March 28 in advance of the Vatican conference, Lord Monckton said, "The main reason, Your Holiness, of why we are here today, is it is not the business of the church to stray from the field of faith and morals and wander into the playground that is science… It is not the business of the church to pronounce on science."
On the pages of Commonweal, Robin Darling Young wrote in an article entitled ‘Does the Earth have Rights?’ that “Catholic climate skeptics” are in an quandary over the Pope’s authority when speaking on the moral dimensions of science and the debate over climate change. “Catholics who oppose policies meant to halt or ameliorate climate change—Catholic climate skeptics—grant the pope’s authority in the moral realm, but dispute his expertise in climate science. Some have not hesitated to call him out on his views, at times harshly…Ironically, Catholic foes of Francis’s probable environmental teaching find themselves in a position similar to that of a very different group: those who turned away from another encyclical, Humanae vitae, almost half a century ago.” It was in Humane Vitae, a document issued by Pope Paul VI in the late 1960s, that Church teaching regarding abortion and contraception was clarified.