Faith Matters

Pope Francis: Climate change means we need to pay our ecological debt and bring an end to the fossil fuel era

From the plight of Lough Neagh to the global challenge of climate change, humanity's impact on the environment is all too clear to see. Pope Francis sets out ways to help our 'common home' once again 'teem with life'

A warning sign at Kinnego Marina on Lough Neagh. Picture - Alan Lewis/Photopress
Pope Francis

'Let Justice and Peace Flow' is the theme of this year's ecumenical Season of Creation, inspired by the words of the prophet Amos: "Let justice flow on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream."

How can we contribute to the mighty river of justice and peace? What can we, particularly as Christian communities, do to heal our common home so that it can once again teem with life? We must do this by resolving to transform our hearts, our lifestyles and the public policies ruling our societies.

First, let us join the mighty river by transforming our hearts. This is essential for any other transformation to occur; it is that ecological conversion which Saint John Paul II encouraged us to embrace: the renewal of our relationship with creation so that we no longer see it as an object to be exploited, but cherish it instead as a sacred gift from our Creator.

An integral approach to respect for the environment involves four relationships: with God; with our brothers and sisters of today and tomorrow; with all of nature; and with ourselves.

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Second, let us add to the flow of this mighty river by transforming our lifestyles. Starting from grateful wonder at the Creator and his creation, let us repent of our ecological sins which harm the world of nature and our fellow men and women.

Let us adopt lifestyles marked by less waste and unnecessary consumption, especially where the processes of production are toxic and unsustainable. Let us be as mindful as we can about our habits and economic decisions so that all can thrive – our fellow men and women wherever they may be, and future generations as well.


A 'wake' highlighted the plight of Lough Neagh, which is awash with toxic algae. Picture - Mal McCann


Let us cooperate in God's ongoing creation through positive choices: using resources with moderation and a joyful sobriety, disposing and recycling waste, and making greater use of available products and services that are environmentally and socially responsible.

Lastly, for the mighty river to continue flowing, we must transform the public policies that govern our societies and shape the lives of young people today and tomorrow. Economic policies that promote scandalous wealth for a privileged few and degrading conditions for many others, spell the end of peace and justice.

It is clear that the richer nations have contracted an ecological debt that must be paid. The world leaders who will gather for the COP28 summit in Dubai from November 30 to December 12 must listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel.

According to the commitments undertaken in the Paris Agreement to restrain global warming, it is absurd to permit the continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures. Let us raise our voices to halt this injustice towards the poor and towards our children, who will bear the worst effects of climate change. I appeal to all people of good will to act in conformity with these perspectives on society and nature.


Pope Francis



Another parallel perspective has to do with the Catholic Church's commitment to synodality. This year, the closing of the Season of Creation on October 4, the feast of St Francis of Assisi, will coincide with the opening of the Synod on Synodality.

Like rivers in nature, fed by myriad tiny brooks and larger streams and rivulets, the synodal process that began in October 2021 invites all those who take part on a personal or community level, to coalesce in a majestic river of reflection and renewal. The entire People of God is being invited to an immersive journey of synodal dialogue and conversion.

So too, like a river basin with its many tiny and larger tributaries, the Church is a communion of countless local Churches, religious communities and associations that draw from the same shared waters. Each source adds its unique and irreplaceable contribution, until all flow together into the vast ocean of God's loving mercy.

In the same way that a river is a source of life for its surroundings, our synodal Church must be a source of life for our common home and all its inhabitants. In the same way that a river gives life to all kinds of animal and plant life, a synodal Church must give life by sowing justice and peace in every place it reaches.

In this Season of Creation, let us live, work and pray that our common home will teem with life once again. May the Holy Spirit once more guide our efforts to renew the face of the earth.



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