Church and Climate Change
of twenty-five percent of the world's population are responsible
for almost seventy-five percent of the global emission of greenhouse
gases. Global warming, as it is popularly called, is global
in scale. It recognizes no boundaries, no nationalities, no
cultural divides. It is the great equalizer with unpleasant
These words from
Archbishop Renato Martino, the Permanent Observer
of the Holy See to the United Nations (UN), were used in an address
to the UN on 28 November 2001. The Archbishop focused on the environment,
sustainable development and protecting the global climate for
present and future generations of humankind. He used information
from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
to inform his call for action on the crisis of climate change.
The Archbishop, quoting
from the IPCC, said that "there is a new and stronger
evidence that most of the warming observed over the last fifty
years is attributed to human activities".
The Archbishop's involvement
in an issue such as climate change is consistent with
Pope John Paul II's call to the faithful in 2001 to
support an 'ecological conversion':
in our time, has without hesitation devastated wooded plains
and valleys, polluted waters, disfigured the earth's habitat,
made the air unbreathable, disturbed the hydrogeological and
atmospheric systems, turned luxuriant areas into deserts and
undertaken forms of unrestrained industrialization.
We must therefore
encourage and support the "ecological conversion"
which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to
the catastrophe to which it has been heading. (Humanity) is
no longer the Creator's "steward", but an autonomous
despot, who is finally beginning to understand that (it) must
stop at the edge of the abyss
At stake, then, is not only
a "physical" ecology that is concerned to safeguard
the habitat of the various living beings, but also a "human"
ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified,
by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations
and by preparing for future generations an environment more
in conformity with the Creator's plan.
is not a question of whether the Earth's climate will
change, but rather by how much, how fast and where.
reports released by the CSIRO in May 2001 predicted severe
weather changes and consequences for Australia.
has had its hottest April on record, according to the
Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Saturday 4 May 2002
Change - What is it?
Climate is the average weather in a particular region.
Climate change names the fact that our climate is not static.
Natural climate change occurs but, in our industrialised
era, the activity of human beings adds another critical
factor to the global climate system.
Human-induced climate change is perhaps the most serious
environmental threat facing humanity in the twenty-first
It is undisputed that the last two decades were the warmest
in the twentieth century, indeed the warmest for the
last 1000 years - sea level is rising, precipitation
patterns are changing, Arctic sea ice is thinning and
the frequency and intensity of El Nino events appear
to be increasing.
Recognising the problem of accelerated climate change,
the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
in 1988. It is open to all members of the UNEP and
the WMO. The role of the IPCC is to assess the scientific,
technical and socio-economic information relevant for
the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate
change. It does not carry out new research nor does
it monitor climate related data. It bases its assessment
mainly on published and peer reviewed scientific technical
Earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both
global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era,
with some of these changes attributable to human activities.
There is new and stronger evidence that most of the observed
warming of the past 50 years is attributable to human activities.
(Dr Robert Watson, IPCC Chairman, 7 November 2001)
Impacts of Climate Change in Australia
The CSIRO in 2001 predicted that by 2030 annual average
temperatures will be between 0.4 and 2 degrees higher over
most of Australia, with slightly less warming in some coastal
areas and Tasmania, and that there is potential for greater
warming in the north-west. By 2070 annual average temperatures
are expected to increase by 1 to 6 degrees over most of
Changes in rainfall relative to 1990 tend towards decreases
in the south-west of Australia and parts of the south-east
and Queensland. Decreases are more pronounced in winter
and spring. Where average rainfall increases there would
be more extremely wet years, and where average rainfall
decreases there would be more dry spells. Where there is
an increase in rainfall there will be greater incidents
and moisture stress: Warmer conditions will lead to
increased evaporation. When this is combined with the simulated
changes in rainfall, there is a decrease in available moisture.
This means greater moisture stress for Australia.
cyclones: Number and severity will increase.
rise: Global sea-level rises associated with increased
temperatures are 9-88 cm by 2100 or 0.8-8 cm per decade.
change will affect all systems within the planet. It will
have adverse impacts on:
natural systems such as forests and woodlands
pests and weeds
urban and coastal communities and
the Greenhouse Effect
effect: The Earth is naturally
protected by radiation-absorbing gases, notably carbon dioxide
and water vapour. These serve to retain some of the sun's
warmth in what is commonly referred to as the greenhouse
effect. This atmospheric principle is the same as that
experienced in a green/hot house. In the early Earth, carbon
dioxide accounted for over 70% of the atmosphere. The sun,
however, was about a quarter less powerful: it was carbon
dioxide and other greenhouse gases that kept the
temperature warm enough for life. Over the aeons, the sun
has grown hotter, but temperatures have remained comfortable
because carbon dioxide concentrations have steadily declined.
Since the Industrial Revolution there has been a human-induced
increase in atmospheric carbon and other gases. This is
the 'enhanced' greenhouse effect brought about by human
activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
(The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management)
gases are molecules in the Earth's atmosphere
such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4)
and CFCs which warm the atmosphere because they absorb
some of the thermal radiation emitted from the Earth's
gas emissions are the release of greenhouse gases
into the atmosphere, causing global warming.
fuels are fuels such as coal, oil and gas made by decomposition
of ancient animal and plant remains which give off carbon
dioxide when burned.
80% from fossil fuel burning - non-renewable sources of
oil, coal and natural gas (as humans we contribute
to this by, for example, our use of cars and electricity).
20% from tropical deforestation.
While most emissions now come from developed countries
of the North (the developed industrialised nations)
which includes Australia, within a few decades over
half the emissions will come from the developing world,
notably China and India.
as at 17 September 2001: Australian average greenhouse
gas emissions are now 30% higher than those of the American
average. The largest per capita emitters are: Australia
(27.6 tonnes), Luxembourg (24.2), Canada (21.9) and the
USA (21.1). The average for the European Union is 10.3 tonnes,
a figure heavily influenced by its largest members, Germany
(11.9), UK (11.4), France (8.2) and Italy (9.0).
bleaching, leading to the death of corals, will become
a more frequent event on Australian coral reefs in the
Earth's temperature is rising globally, and this increase
in temperature is attributed to the increase in greenhouse
gases produced largely through human activity.
greenhouse gas emissions have increased massively and
are running 25 percent above a target set by the rest
of the world.
climate change, it's the poorest who pay most, not the
polluters in the industrialised countries.
change and environmental justice advocates the adoption
of a morally responsible policy that avoids disproportionate
climate change impacts on vulnerable groups and opposes
unfair, regressive climate policies, e.g. the peoples of
some of the Pacific Islands are vulnerable to rising sea-levels
and are likely to suffer a disproportionate effect of global
equity is the equal right to global common resources. The
injustice of climate change centres on the fact that the
world's poor - in both developed and developing countries
- have neither contributed to the problem to a substantial
degree nor benefited financially from the fossil fuel industry.
natural disasters in 1998 created more refugees than wars
or other armed conflicts. Declining soil fertility, drought,
flooding and deforestation drove 25 million 'environmental
refugees' from their land and into vulnerable squatter communities
of crowded cities. Fleeing from weather-devastated homes,
the group represented 58% of the total refugee population
the Kyoto Protocol
Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change is an international framework
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to mitigate
the worst impacts of global climate change. In December
1997, representatives from 142 nations met in Kyoto, Japan,
to negotiate and sign the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC), now known as the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol and its continuing negotiations are far
from perfect. However, as it is the only current international
agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and has been
ten years in the making, many believe getting the Protocol
into action is a crucial step in combating global warming.
Kyoto Protocol will only come into legal force when it
is ratified by the governments of at least 55 countries
responsible for 55% of 1990 CO2 emissions. Therefore,
to reach the required emission levels, the governments
ratifying must include the countries that are responsible
for the greatest emissions of CO2 based on
the levels of 1990. This group includes USA, Canada, Australia,
Japan, European Union, New Zealand and Russia. As the USA
has withdrawn from the process it is imperative that the
other countries responsible for the greatest emissions
ratify the Protocol before the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg in late August-early
is imperative that the Australian Government meets its international
obligations by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol before the WSSD.
It will be important to lobby our elected representatives
in the weeks leading up to this important international
Summit on Sustainable Development - Johannesburg
26 August - 4 September 2002
Kyoto Protocol will be a key agenda item at the Summit.
It is hoped that most nations will have ratified the Protocol
before the WSSD commences. Other agenda areas will address
poverty, improving sanitation, preserving natural ecosystems,
changing harmful patterns of consumption and focusing special
attention on impoverished Africa. These issues are integral
to sustainable development which aims to meet present needs
while not compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their needs.
- Global Warming: The Complete Briefing (John
from the Storm: The Development of Climate Change
Policy in Australia (Clive Hamilton)
Action Network Australia
- CST and the Environment Module
- SAO (CLRIQ)
here for a printable pdf copy of this Fact
more information on the World Summit on Sustainable Development,
check the Towards
Earth Summit 2002 website.