Inside the Vatican Symposium on Climate Change
The Pope and the assembled mayors signed a Declaration of the Mayors committing to address the challenges of climate change and its impacts.
The City of Boulder was honored to be invited to a symposium on "Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities" at the Vatican in late July. This meeting of 65 mayors from cities around the world - including ten mayors from the U.S., plus California's Gov. Brown - helped attract continued international interest in Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si' (On Care for Our Common Home), which he released in May.
The key messages from both the encyclical and the symposium cover four main points. First, climate change is scientifically proven and humans are the main cause. Second, climate change is a crisis facing the world and must be dealt with immediately and forcefully. Third, there is a direct connection between climate change and other forms of environmental degradation, and intense impacts on the poor that cause them to be displaced and taken advantage of in numerous ways including what the Pope has called "modern slavery." Finally, cities are leading the way with innovative and effective strategies to combat these critical problems.
The symposium consisted of numerous short presentations by various cities, focusing on their climate change mitigation strategies and/or their actions regarding human trafficking and related economic equity issues. Thus there was much talk about decarbonizing electric power supplies, reducing energy demand, affordable housing, income inequity, transit and bikes, etc. Pope Francis joined the meeting at its conclusion, strongly reiterating the key points from his encyclical and urging cities and nations to quickly take strong action on these critical issues.
The Pope and the assembled mayors then signed a Declaration of the Mayors committing us to address the challenges of climate change and its impacts. Some of its key messages are:
- Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral imperative for humanity.
- In this core moral space, the cities play a very vital role.
- The poor and excluded face dire threats from climate disruptions, including the increased frequency of droughts, extreme storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels.
- The world has within its technological grasp, financial resources, and know-how the means to mitigate climate change while also ending extreme poverty.
- The world should take note that the climate summit in Paris later this year (COP21) may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees Celsius.
- Climate-change mitigation will require a rapid world transformation to a world powered by renewable and other low-carbon energy and the sustainable management of ecosystems.
The forums were organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and are two of many similar events being held worldwide prior to two keys gatherings that will be held later this year. The first is the adoption by the UN of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include concepts like reducing poverty, providing health care and education, and, importantly, recognizing the role of cities and the impacts of climate change.
The second is the COP21 meeting in Paris in December, sponsored by the UN's commission on climate change, at which the world's nations will decide how and when they will deal with reducing human-caused climate change. The cities of the world are looking to play a key role, and the Pope's recognition of the importance of cities is thus very timely. I'll be joining a small delegation from the National League of Cities, which is actively engaging in this effort.
The importance of the Pope's strong focus on these issues cannot be underestimated as both his encyclical and the symposium were powerful statements that received great attention and worldwide news coverage. His upcoming address to a joint session of the US Congress should be fascinating. My presence at these meetings on behalf of Boulder was not just an honor for my city but also for all cities engaged in the vital work of combating climate change.
About the Author: Matt Applebaum is the mayor of Boulder, Colo. He currently serves on the NLC Board of Directors, was a member and chair of the Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources (EENR) Policy Committee, and also serves on the University Communities Council.