Faith groups meet Hollande, present requests for fair climate agreement

French President Francois Hollande looks on as Auxiliary Bishop Leonardo Steiner of Brasilia, secretary-general of the Brazilian bishops' conference, speaks during a private ceremony for faith-based groups at the presidential palace in Paris. (CNS photo/Sean Hawkey, courtesy WCC) See UN-CLIMATE-PETITION Dec. 11, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande looks on as Auxiliary Bishop Leonardo Steiner of Brasilia, secretary-general of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, speaks during a private ceremony for faith-based groups at the presidential palace in Paris. (CNS photo/Sean Hawkey, courtesy WCC) See UN-CLIMATE-PETITION Dec. 11, 2015.

By James Martone Catholic News Service

PARIS (CNS) — Faith-based groups presented French President Francois Hollande with 1.8 million signatures of people seeking a fair climate change agreement that would stop global warming and protect the poor, reported religious groups in Paris for the U.N. climate change conference.

The petitions were in the form of hundreds of thousands of signatures and messages, presented by a group of religious leaders to Hollande in a private ceremony at his presidential palace, the faith-based groups said.

“Today the messages of over 900,000 Catholics calling for climate justice were delivered to President Francois Hollande in coalition with other faith-based groups. In total, the faith-based networks of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, ACT Alliance, Religions for Peace and Our Voices delivered 1,833,973 signatures at the special reception held at the Presidential Palace in Paris,” said a statement from the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

At the ceremony, Hollande thanked the religious groups. “We must protect the planet … through the petitions, through the walks and pilgrimages, you have committed to defend life,” the statement quoted the French president as saying.

It added that Auxiliary Bishop Leonardo Steiner of Brasilia, secretary-general of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, told Hollande that “as people of faith, we are extremely pleased to meet you today to deliver these petition signatures and demand climate justice. We are extremely concerned about the climate crisis. But we know that all is not lost.”

He quoted from Pope Francis’ June encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,”: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

The petitions were originally presented Nov. 28 to the U.N.’s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, and to Hollande’s special envoy for the protection of the planet, Nicolas Hulot.

France has been hosting the U.N. summit in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget since Nov. 30. Last-minute disputes among negotiators appeared to have extended the Dec. 11 deadline for a climate agreement, French media reported.

Thousands of climate activists, many of them faith-based, were in Paris for the two-week conference, in hopes of swaying negotiators from the 195 participating countries to produce an accord that curbs global warming but includes safeguards and compensation for the world’s poorer developing nations.

Some of the most divisive issues discussed at the summit, known as COP21, have revolved around the extent to which poor countries should be compensated for climate change damage already incurred, and for them to be able to adapt to cleaner forms of energy. The rights of indigenous and other peoples who might suffer under “greener” technologies of any new accord have been a sticking point of the negotiations as well, as has the issue of what limits the accord should set on world temperatures.

Yeb Sano, an activist and former climate negotiator for the Philippines, told the French president at the palace ceremony that he and other pilgrims had journeyed thousands of miles to carry “the message of climate justice and our solidarity as one human family,” in order “to express faith communities’ deep sense of urgency regarding the climate crisis.”

“Altogether we journeyed the distance of close to 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles), including a group that I personally joined from the Vatican to Paris. We also cycled over 7,000 kilometers from Mozambique to Kenya, pushing the climate justice flag high and collecting thousands of signatures on the way,” an ACT Alliance press statement quoted Sano as saying.

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