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Pope Francis' encyclical stands up for climate victims – groups

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) Pope Francis' historic encyclical on climate change was everything Filipino climate activists wanted it to be: strong, clear, and compassionate to those suffering the brunt of a disrupted climate.

The encyclical is an "invaluable reinforcement to the growing worldwide clamor for climate justice and a compelling call to action for more than a billion Catholics worldwide," said climate activist Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development.

The much-anticipated papal message, entitled Laudato Si, was released on Thursday, June 18. It will be sent to bishops all over the world for dissemination to 1.2 billion Catholics. (READ: Pope Francis, the climate activist)

As expected, the encyclical reflects Pope Francis' view that climate change is a moral issue and the act of curbing the phenomenon, a moral imperative.

The Pope's framing of the issue "shifts the focus of concern from the scientific and political dimension to all embracing moral appreciation. Pope Francis luminously explains with the new encyclical that man is damaging God’s creation," said Climate Change Commissioner Heherson Alvarez in a statement. (READ: Pope Francis to Filipinos: Care for the environment)

Philippine climate action group Aksyon Klima thanked the Pope "for always being the voice of the voiceless and the light of those who are oppressed."

Greenpeace Southeast Asia climate justice campaigner Anna Abad added, “Filipinos who continuously bear the brunt of catastrophic climate impacts have found a strong advocate in Pope Francis." 

In the encyclical, the Pope emphasized the need to help victims of climate change: "Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry."

He also alluded to climate refugees, those displaced from their homes by climate change impacts like typhoons. 

"They bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever," he writes.

Francis condemned the "widespread indifference to such suffering."

"Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded," he adds.

Such a message has particular significance to countries like the Philippines which, according to studies, is already suffering the most from climate change impacts.

"This call from the Pope is a humble request to all governments to include climate action in their respective national agendas. The Philippines, long has been the face and voice of climate change vulnerable countries, should be at the helm of this movement to call for climate action," said Aksyon Klima.

Unfair world order

The Pope's encyclical clearly condemns a global economic order that abuses the Earth's natural resources and spreads wealth unfairly, said former climate change commissioner now climate activist Naderev Saño.

"Pope Francis has consistently criticized the current economic order as a greed-driven, 'throw-away' system, in which the rich get richer and the poor poorer," Saño said in a statement sent to Rappler.

"Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it," reads the papal message.

"Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor," it continues.

Other groups hope the Pope's message is heard by President Benigno Aquino III, who, in a UN summit in New York City, committed to do his utmost in furthering climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Philippines.

"Unfortunately, the Philippine government’s energy policy and plan to build more than 40 coal plants is not consistent with its so-called commitment to climate justice," said Nakpil.

As Pope Francis himself explained in his encyclical, fossil fuel sources of energy like coal-fired power plants are the main drivers of global warming. Experts say turning to renewable energy would help the world curb the phenomenon.

Worldwide Fund for Nature Philippines President Joel Palma said, "This is the push we need in order to realize that a future powered by renewables is the best way to heal what Pope Francis terms as the wounds wrought by humanity’s irresponsible actions."

In time for Paris

The papal encyclical comes at the best possible time, say climate activists – 6 months before a crucial climate change conference to be held in Paris, France, in December.

The Pope's immense power to influence may come in handy during the tense UN-hosted negotiations which have led to deadlocks in the past.

In the encyclical, the religious leader criticized weak efforts to address the destructive phenomenon.

"The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected," he says.

The "strong response" from world leaders to the Pope's words "should be able to overcome mistrust and selfishness to promote the culture of solidarity, cooperation, and dialogue," said Aksyon Klima.

The leader of the Catholic Church has always been outspoken about climate change and the world's efforts in curbing it. 

He has consistently asked world leaders to "show courage" in making meaningful commitments during UN climate talks.

Last January, he visited Tacloban City in Eastern Visayas, thought to be the "ground zero" of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the strongest typhoon to make landfall in history. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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