At COP28, short-term changes matter more than long-term goals

By Michael Sean Winters, 2 December 2023
Image: Markus Spiske/Unsplash


The spirit was willing, but the flesh is weak. Pope Francis desperately wanted to fly to Dubai Dec. 1 to speak at the United Nations Global Climate Change Conference, known as COP28. The pope’s recent apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum, released on Oct. 4, expressed the urgency he attaches to the issue of combating climate change. His determination to make it to Dubai was a kind of exclamation point to that document even though he is not able to make it to the meeting due to inflammation of his lungs.

Will it work? In Laudate Deum, the pope was deeply concerned about the lack of progress that has been made so far in confronting the environmental crisis. He wrote:

If there is sincere interest in making COP28 a historic event that honors and ennobles us as human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. This, in order to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three requirements: that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all. That is not what has happened so far, and only a process of this sort can enable international politics to recover its credibility, since only in this concrete manner will it be possible to reduce significantly carbon dioxide levels and to prevent even greater evils over time.

The Holy Father’s hopes for overcoming the technocratic paradigm and “reconfiguring multilateralism” are all well-stated, but I hope in Dubai the countries will focus less on those more abstract points and try to change the emphasis to the very practical and immediate. It is less important that countries pledge themselves to some far-off goals that they may or may not meet. It is more important that they start doing something now, that they set goals for reducing climate emissions in the next 12 months, not just in the next 12 years.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.


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