WASHINGTON – The United States has an obligation to honor the Paris climate agreement to protect “our people and our planet” and “mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “is on record supporting prudent action to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said in a June 1 statement.
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” was timed, he said, “to urge the nations of the world to work together in Paris for an agreement that protects our people and our planet. We hope the United States will honor the commitment it made there.”
Trump was expected to announce his decision about exiting the Parish climate accord later in the afternoon of June 1.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Integral Development of People, told reporters in Washington May 31 that “the decision to possibly pull out for us is something we hoped would not have happened.”
“Certain issues should be taken out of the political discussion and not be politicized. … The truth is, climate is a global public good and not limited to any country, not limited to any nation,” the cardinal said.
“The Vatican would always respect the decision of a sovereign state,” Cardinal Turkson added.”We will continue to still talk about climate change and all of that, and hope that some change can occur midstream.”
News reports said that members of Trump’s administration had differing opinions about the pact, with some siding with the president’s earlier expressed opinion that the United States should not be party to the agreement, which was ratified by President Barack Obama on his own, bypassing the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was among those said to disagree with any decision to exit the accord.
Bishop Cantu’s statement was released by the USCCB along with copies of letters sent weeks earlier to Tillerson, Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. The letters were signed by Bishop Cantu; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Sean L. Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.
“Today, we write about our shared obligation to care for the environment. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood ‘the environment’ to be a gift from God,” they wrote in the letters urging the Trump administration officials in their respective capacities to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Paris accord.
“Pope Francis called on the world’s leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home. … We have one common home, and we must protect it,” they said.
“We want to reaffirm the importance of U.S. leadership and urge continued commitment to the Paris agreement,” the Catholic leaders said, noting that in 2015 the USCCB “affirmed that funding for climate change related adaptation and mitigation programs as part of the Paris agreement is urgently needed if we are to meet our common and differentiated responsibilities for the effects of climate change.”
The Paris accord has been ratified by 134 of the 197 countries that approved it in December 2015 under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement went into force in October after enough countries ratified it.
“If Donald Trump really decides to withdraw the United States from the Paris accords, it will be a disaster for everyone,” said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
The bishop and the academies are at the forefront of promoting scientific studies on climate change and implementation of the recommendations in Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’“ on care for the environment. The pope gave Trump a copy of the document when they met May 24 at the Vatican.
In an interview June 1 with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Bishop Sanchez said he did not think Trump and Pope Francis discussed climate change in any depth when they met, however climate change was a significant part of the discussions the president and top staff members had with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
“In that sense, if he really does what the leaks suggest, for us it will be a huge slap in the face,” the bishop said.
Obama deserves some of the blame, the bishop said, because “he took decisions on climate only through presidential orders, leaving open the possibility that his successor would change everything. That’s the problem. Today, in just one day, Trump could change all the cards on the table to the disadvantage of many and to the advantage of the oil lobby.”
Tillerson participated in Trump’s meeting with Cardinal Parolin and told reporters that while climate change did not come up in Trump’s meeting with the pope, they had “a good exchange on the climate change issue” with the cardinal.
“The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it’s an important issue,” Tillerson said shortly after the meeting. “I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange on the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy.”
Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin’s encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: “The president indicated we’re still thinking about that, that he hasn’t made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It’s an opportunity to hear from people. We’re developing our own recommendation on that. So it’ll be something that will probably be decided after we get home.”
Dennis Sadowski in Washington and Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story.