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The Pope Reminded Us That Climate Change Is a Moral Issue

06/19/2015 04:33 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
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Pope Francis leaves his residence to meet Cuba's President Raul Castro, at the Vatican, Sunday, May 10, 2015. Cuban President Raul Castro has been welcomed at the Vatican by Pope Francis, who played a key role in the breakthrough between Washington and Havana aimed at restoring U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Last September I joined a historic 400,000 people on the streets of New York marching for action on climate change. The message of the day was simple: To change everything, we need everyone.

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis addressed the 1.3 billion Catholics of the world -- and all people of good will -- with the first encyclical in history focused on climate change action.

This is important not only because of the direct influence of the Pontiff, but because of his powerful argument. The Pope reminds us that we as humans have a stewardship obligation to the planet, and that we must exercise that obligation in a way that is socially just and equitable.

Climate change from that perspective is not just an economic or technical issue -- how do we burn less carbon and how do we pay for it -- it's actually a moral issue.

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© Patricia Buckley / WWF-Canada

We must burn less carbon if we are going to be a just society.

As sea levels rise and we witness more unpredictable weather along with larger and longer heat waves, it is obvious that developing countries are on the front-line of climate change. Sub-Saharan Africa will be one of the hardest hit regions in the world, where higher temperatures will influence water resource availability and crop yields: outcomes that have dire effects on local communities.

The Pope's intervention is timely.

The world is changing fast. In the past year, huge strides have been made on climate change action. Record after record has been broken in the global shift toward clean, renewable energy.

As my colleague Nina Jensen, CEO of WWF-Norway said, "This is not about what we must stop doing so much as it is about what we can start. And not only because we desire a better world, but because the science of our world's planetary limits are demanding it."

At WWF-Canada we are helping achieve this goal by demonstrating the possible: by creating habitat-friendly renewables, for example. It is our goal to show what is possible by supporting three communities in the Arctic in their transition to habitat-friendly renewables from diesel over the next five years -- in a way that helps these communities become stronger economically. We will also be working in the Bay of Fundy to help clean tidal power work for nature.

This fall, in Paris, the nations of the world will gather yet again to try to reach agreement at COP 21. I was in Copenhagen, six years ago, when nations failed to act -- blocked by a few, including Canada, from taking action on the threat of climate change. Many of us lost some optimism then, and we have taken six years to reach a point where there is another chance for nations to act.

In between, there have been reasons for hope. Actions by business, NGOs, cities, provinces, and some countries have all shown that it is possible to reduce carbon in a way that helps the economy and helps people.

In this context, the Pope's encyclical is important because it speaks to the morality of these issues; to our obligations as ethical and moral people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change; to our obligations to the planet and to other people -- and it does all that at this critical moment.

The timing is essential. The message is essential.

The Pope has added immensely to the global momentum to create real action on carbon pollution, now.

When I marched alongside 400,000 others in New York last September, I felt a shift. I felt that we had collectively raised the bar. This encyclical raises the bar yet again. And it is up to all of us to keep pushing that bar high and demonstrate what is possible.

It's true: To change everything, we need everyone.

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