The future challenges of climate change

Well-known environmentalist, author and Columban Fr. Séan McDonagh has written a very detailed article which reflects on COP26 in Glasgow and the explores the future challenges of climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988.

The objective of the IPCC was to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. Any report drawn up by the scientists who worked on the document, had also to be approved by the governments of the member countries which in 2021 numbers a hundred and ninety-five countries. When the first report of the IPCC was published in 1990, some politicians attempted to water down its findings.

The most successful Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting on climate change took place in Paris in December 2015. In a legally binding international treaty, the 109 countries present in Paris agreed to keep the average global warming to 2 degrees or preferably 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In order to achieve this goal, countries need to cut global in greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by the 2030 and to be carbon dioxide neutral by 2050.The Paris Agreement set in motion a five-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action. By 2020, all the countries that signed the agreement agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by reporting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Paris Agreement also provided a framework for financial, technical and capacity supports for economically poor nations to help them reach their targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to deal with the adverse changes that climate change is bringing.  In the past number of years a lot of investment has been focused in reducing carbon dioxide in the area of transport and renewable energy. This has created jobs in the wind and solar energy sectors. Many countries, regions, cities and companies have established carbon neutral goals.

Naturally, a lot more needs to be done.  As of mid-2021, the average global temperature was now 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, all the countries which I discuss in this paper are finding difficult, if not impossible to meet their greenhouse gas emission targets or help economically poorer countries cope with climate change. We need to move quickly.

In 1999 I wrote a book Greening the Christian Millennium. In the chapter on climate change, I referred to a study done by the Economic Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1997 which recommended that a European Union wide ‘greenhouse gas tax’ should be levied on all polluters in the industrial, agricultural and transport sectors.

Professor John FitzGerald of the ESRI was very critical of the Irish government’s dilatory stance on carbon tax. [1] Unfortunately, not too much has changed since then.

Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC

On August 9th, 2021, the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC was published. The findings are based on 14,000 studies and the work of more than 200 scientists. To date it is the clearest and most comprehensive account of the science of climate change. Dr Tamsin Edwards from King’s College London, one of the main authors of the report, points out that climate science has improved significantly since the previous IPCC report in 2013. In that report, human influence on climate change was “clear” whereas in the new report it is “unequivocal.”

According to Antonino Guterres, the UN Secretary of the United Nations, the 2021 Report of the IPCC is a ‘code red for humanity’. The evidence of climate change is irrefutable. Greenhouse gas emissions from both burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture are choking our planet and putting millions of lives of humans and other creatures at risk. He pointed out that more than 30 million people were displaced by climate change in 2020.[2]

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from 280 parts million to over 416 parts per million today. The reason is that humans, especially those in rich and industrialised countries are burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas to heat their homes, power their industrial an transport sectors and increase agricultural production considerably. [3]

Those opposed to climate change action

In July 2021, the Royal Dutch Shell company published its annual environmental report. In that document it boasted that it was investing heavily in renewable energy by installing thousands of charging points for electric vehicles. On precisely the same day Shell also published another report in which it revealed that its largest donation last year was to American Petroleum Institute (API) which lobby the US congress for favourable treatment for oil companies.

Most other oil companies are doing the same, claiming that they are promoting renewable energy, while, at the same time weakening environmental legislation.[4] Will the opponents of climate change, especially the fossils fuel companies continue to obstruct and cast doubt on the indisputable scientific consensus as a way of stopping the drastic actions which are needed to mitigate global warming?

John Gibbon’s makes the point that Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, especially Fox news in the United States, are climate denialists and do not often present the real damage what is being done by global warming. Some of his news outlets in Australia claimed that the recent fires there were caused by arsonists. [5]

The science of climate change

The IPCC report makes it clear that the concentration of carbon dioxide is greater than at any time in the past two million years. One reason for this is that the wildfires globally have produced record levels of carbon dioxide. [6] As a result, the average global temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The warmer atmosphere, land and oceans has caused more severe droughts, floods and typhoons in recent years. In July 2021, heavy rains in Germany, Holland and Belgium caused riverbanks to burst, flooding entire towns and villages and destroying highways. More than 160 people lost their lives.

Impact of a warming world

2020 has the hottest year ever recorded, The Arctic and northern Siberia saw extreme average temperatures of more than 3 degree Celsius above the long-term average. In the wake of the heatwaves in United States and Canada in June and July 2021, climate scientists such as Dr. Friederike from the University of Oxford and Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, now believe that rising temperatures are coming faster and hitting harder than they had previously projected.[7]

This will mean that more extreme heatwaves are becoming a nightmare for millions of people around the world. It will make it very difficult for human beings to live in many tropical areas of the world. At present almost 40 percent of the world population live in the tropics, though that figure will rise to 50 percent by 2050.[8]

Severe weather

Massive wildfires which burned in Australia, Siberia, Greece, Turkey and California bear the hallmark of climate change. In September 2021, Hurricane Ida began in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in Louisiana with winds of 240 kilometres per hour. [9]

As it barrelled in to New York city three inches of rain fell in a single hour shattering all previous records, Roads turned into rivers. At least 13 people died many of them downed in their own basements. The ferocity of this storm is a clear indicator that climate change is now in place. As the weather gets warmer this will lead to more hurricanes and devastating flooring events which can destabilize a society. In 2021, a study of 20 years data published in Lancet Planetary Health found that extreme weather is responsible for at least 5 million deaths each year.[10]

Climate change is affecting the Gulf Stream

Climate scientists have detected warning signs that climate change could lead to the collapse of the Gulf Stream.  These scientists have found that the current is at its lowest point in 1,600 years and it could also collapse completely.[11] The collapse of the Gulf Stream would be disastrous causing freezing winters in Northern Europe. Niklas Boers, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate impact Research in Germany, believes that the signs of destabilisations are already visible.[12]

Sea-Level rise

The warmer atmosphere and oceans mean that the late summer Arctic Sea ice has decreased by 40 percent in a mere 30 years. In this warmer world massive icebergs and glaciers are melting in Greenland, The Arctic and the Himalayas leading to a significant rise in sea-levels.  The situation is even more unpredictable in Antarctica where the collapse of two glaciers could over centuries raise ocean levels by 3 metres.[13] It is also true that a significant part of the Greenland ice sheet is also on the brink of collapse. The ice cap there is 3 kilometres deep, and it contains enough ice to raise sea-levels a few metres.[14] If this happens countries like Bangladesh will lose land and many coastal cities like Manila will be flooded and some island nations such as Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean may disappear in the next 50 years.


Most of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over the past 200 years has come from rich, industrialized counties, yet the worst impact is often felt in poor countries such as Mozambique where a prolonged drought is currently causing a famine. Many people feel that drought will become the next pandemic since 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought during the past 20 years. The economic cost is estimated to be $124 billion. Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction said: “Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living in water stressed areas in the next few years.”[15]

Ending the fossil fuel era

Given the extreme weather, which was experienced in 2020 and 2021, a report published in Nature in September 2021 concluded that 60 percent of the planet’s remaining oil and natural gas and 90 percent of its coal reserves should remain in the ground by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. [16]

IPCC Report 2021

The IPCC report had been published three months before world leaders meet at COP 26 in Glasgow (October 31st to November 12th) to discuss climate change. Over 100 world leaders will attend, It is crucial that countries make drastic cuts in their emission of greenhouse gases.   Recent research has shown that the global pipeline for new coal fired plants has collapsed since the Paris agreement in 2015. This means that there are now 44 countries which have agreed not to build any further coal-fired plants.[17]

Request from poor people to postpone COP26

Early in September 2021, a global coalition of more than 1,500 green groups called for the U.N. COP26 climate talks to be postponed due to fears that delegates from the world’s most vulnerable countries face exclusion. [18] Because of Covid-19 pandemic many people, including Mohamed Adow, the director of the climate and energy thinktank “Power Shifts Africa,” has called for COP26 to be postponed until the Spring of 2022. The reason is that only 1.4% of the global south have been vaccinated because the G7 countries have failed to waive patents on vaccines and these countries gave priority to vaccinating their own citizens. Unvaccinated people, like himself are afraid to attend COP26 in Glasgow because of a spike in Covid-19 diagnosis in Scotland.

The British government is aware of this and has offered to give vaccines to delegates who have been unvaccinated and to pay for their quarantining in hotels. Mohamed Adow is clear that the world does not need a climate conference where the voice of the poor, who are most affected by climate change are not heard. [19]

Action we can take

While the IPCC report is certain that major climate changes are inevitable and irreversible, there is much that humans can do to stop global warming from intensifying in the coming decades. The most important action is to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to eliminate them completely 2050.

Irish Situation

Climate scientist, John Sweeney criticised the amendments attached to the 2021 Climate bill because “they have taken the guts out of the Climate change bill and destroyed the principles under which it was established.”[20]

Between promoting animal agriculture, especially dairy farming, numerous of data centres to facilitate multinational firms such as Intel, Google, Facebook and Twitter and bringing fracking gas to Shannon, Ireland has done little, in fact, to address climate change. Changing this will not be easy as 37 percent of greenhouse gases in Ireland come from agriculture. The Irish government’s Food Vision 2030 plans to increase agricultural exports, mainly dairy and livestock by 50 percent in the next decade.

Little though is given to lowering our methane emissions by reducing our dairy herd which has doubled in the past 10 years. In the two five-year carbon budget the Irish government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent each year. The latest projections show that Ireland is well behind on achieving this reduction. In fact, figures published by the EPA indicate that there will be an increase of 1.6 percent in emissions in 2021.[21]

Similarly, there is little talk of moving to more plant-based agriculture which would lower Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly. In fact, 2021 Ireland was the chair of the UN Security Council. In September 2021, an Taoiseach, Michael Martin proposed adding climate change to the agenda of the UN Security Council even though he had criticised An Taisce for requesting that the High Court should rule on whether we needed to build a new cheese factory in Belview County Kilkenny.[22]

In October 2021, the dairy industry published a report which stated that to comply with Ireland’s cut in greenhouse gas emission, Ireland would need to cut 4.9 billion litres of milk which is more than half of the 8.3 billion litres Ireland currently produces. [23] The report claims that this could cost the Irish economy 7.8 billion euro per annum. The report states that the dairy industry is worth 13.1 billion euro to the economy and supports 17,000 families and 56,400 jobs in both farming and processing if a 30 percent reduction “is imposed on carbon emissions by 2030 according to a study commissioned by the Irish Farmers Journal and carried out by KPMG.[24] Given this political background the chance of lowering Ireland’s dairy herd seems very small indeed.

Data Centres

In the autumn of 2021, EirGrid plc the state-owned electric power transmission in Ireland, published its annual Generation Capacity Statement (GCS). The content of their report was explosive. It revealed that there might be power outages during the winter of 2021-2022 and the following few years because there will be a shortfall between supply and demand.

The main reason for this situation is that data centres will demand more and more electricity.  In Eirgrid’s own projections in a medium demand scenario, data centres will account for 25 per cent of all electricity by the year 2030. Without additional connections, demand from this sector could reach 40 percent by 2030. The national grid operator’s concern was clear from footnotes prepared in March 2021 for Leo Varadkar prior to a meeting with Mike Reary, the head of Amazon in Ireland.[25]

The footnotes also made it clear that Eirgrid had switched to a system where it could withdraw the supply of electricity if pressure on the supply deemed it necessary. Amazon has pledged that 100 percent of its infrastructure, including data centres will be powered by renewable energy by 2025.[26] In autumn 2021, Amazon employs 4,000 people in Ireland and is actively recruiting another 1,000.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, TikTok and Microsoft are opposed to any moratorium on data centres. The Irish government is considering introducing regulations which would designate data as ‘strategic structures ‘according to The Business Post because of their importance for big-tech industries. However, most people believe that this will make it impossible to meet Ireland’s legal targets to reduce our emissions of green-house gases by 51 percent by 2030. [27][28]

It is almost certain that we will have to delay the closing of the Tarbert oil-fired power station in Kerry and the coal burning plant in Moneypoint in Clare and buy in extra capacity which will cost Ireland millions of euros.  In a poll conducted by Red C in September 2021, 59 percent wanted data centre development to be controlled to reduce the risk of electricity rolling blackouts. [29]

Despite these figures in terms of lowering Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions the Taoiseach, Michael Martin still insists that “we can’t allow this (energy) crisis to derail the medium and long-term imperative of meeting our climate change targets.”[30]

Cost of retrofitting homes

Retrofitting homes will also be quite expensive. In Ireland it is estimated that retrofitting a house will cost between €25,000 and €50,000. The cost for retrofitting 1.5 million houses which includes which includes the insulation of walls, roofs, floors and window upgrades will come to between €10 to €15 billion. Very few people have access to this kind of money.

Since most churches are heated by oil, parishes will have to spend significant resources retrofitting these churches during the next 10 years. Similar kinds of cost will arise in changing our transport sector from fossil fuels to electricity.

Is Britain leading the way on climate change initiatives?

Two months before COP26 in Glasgow, new analysis by the Climate Action Tracker has found that every one of the leading economies in the world has falling far short of the commitments they made in Paris in 2015. Unless this changes radically the world is on track for at least a 3 Degrees Celsius rise in global temperature which would be disastrous.

In October 2021, the annual World Energy Outlook has calculated that the current pledges of the various government to cut carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050 will fall short by 60 percent. [31] Furthermore, Fatih Birol, the current executive director of IEA told The Guardian that major economies recovering from Covid-19 were missing opportunities to invest in clean energy, [32] He called on rich countries to make tougher commitments to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Britain and Climate Change

People are asking whether Britain is leading by example in tackling climate change?  In September 2021, Boris Johnston admitted that “as recently as 2015 global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is without foundation.”[33] According to Johnston, “the facts change, and people change their minds.” [34]

Unfortunately, this excuse by the Prime Minister is untrue because in 2015 the IPCC was clear that human activity, especially the burning fossil fuel was the main cause of climate change. One of the first requirements of those who wish to talk about climate change is to tell the truth about what is happening which is something that Boris Johnston finds exceedingly difficult. If Johnston had taken the time to listen to Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the United Nations 1989 where she outlined the dangers which greenhouse gases pose for planet earth.[35] The Guardian believes that Boris Johnston’s newfound interest in climate change is partly due to the influence of his wife Carrie Johnston. [36]

Helping financially poor countries tackle climate change

The G7 is an inter-governmental of seven of the rich countries in the world. At G7 summit in Cornwall in June 2021, Boris Johnson promised to protect the natural world and seriously tackle climate change. Unfortunately, he has not committed any new funds to promoting these issues. The other G7 leaders repeated their intension of keeping the rise in global heading to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Neither did the G7 come forward with any cash commitment to help poorer countries deal with climate change. Nor is sufficient money being made available to poor countries to address climate change. In fact, the United Kingdom’s decision to reduce overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% is a clear indication that they are not willing to help developing countries in this time of crisis.

Rich countries such as the UK should be willing to help poor countries to avoid opting for petrochemical era fuels such as coal, gas or oil and move instead to a global green industrial revolution that could transform all our lives for the better. In September 2021, the Foreign Office revealed that there would be cuts of more than 40 percent to the foreign aid budget because of the hit to UK economy because of Covid.[37] The budget in East Africa, once seen as a priority for British aid has shrunk from £240 million in 2020-2021 to a mere £107.5 million in 2022, despite the fact that there is a serious famine in Yemen.[38]

In 2009, at the COP in Copenhagen, rich countries pledged £100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020. Unfortunately, that target has never been met. Asking poor countries at the Glasgow summit to undertake serious climate action while giving them less money to pursue clean energy strategies does not make sense. John Sauver, executive director of Greenpeace UK has been quite critical of the UK’s position. “Despite the green soundbites, Johnson has simply reheated old promises and peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency.” [39]

Britain’s leadership at the Glasgow summit will also be undermined by the fact that it will be telling countries such as China and India that they will need to reduce their dependence on coal while the British government is hoping to get permission to open a new £160 million Woodhouse Colliery project in Cumbria which is estimated to provide 532 jobs directly in an area which has high levels of unemployment.[40]

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated clearly that the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year and no new coal-fired power stations can be built, if the world is to stay within the safe limits of global heating and meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.[41]

The British government is also interested in exploiting the new Cambo oil field situated 125 km to the west of the Shetland Islands. This is a large field containing over 170 million barrels of oil and opening it up would deepen the climate crisis for decades[42]. The government says that the original “licensing approval” for the site goes back to 2001.[43] The reality is that every country needs to transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy as quickly as possible. And the government should lead the way in developing renewable energy in areas such as offshore wind farms and wave power.

During the pandemic 35,000 workers normally associated with the oil industry around Aberdeen lost their jobs. All of those will need jobs in renewable energy in the next few years.[44]

In September 2021, despite serious concerns about climate change, the barrier to the expansion of the Heathrow airport was cleared by the British government.  It is estimated that the new runway will boost Heathrow capacity by 50 percent, allowing it to fly 280,000 extra flights a year.


China, which has the largest carbon footprint in the world,[45] It has pledged not to build coal-fired plants in other countries and to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060. At present its factories and industries are experiencing a serious shortage of electricity. This shortage has meant that Chinese political leaders are encouraging their industries to mine and burn coal, despite their commitments to lower their carbon dioxide emissions because of climate change.[46]

Currently, tax incentives are being drafted to promote the building of coal-fired power plants. Regulators have encouraged Chinese banks to lend money to the coal sector of the economy even when they breach greenhouse gas levels which were introduced in response to climate change concerns. In October 2021, the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang emphasized the importance of a regular supply of electricity after various areas in China have been plunged into darkness.[47] In the context of the climate change debate, Beijing’s renewed embrace of coal on the eve of COP26 is causing alarm.

The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping has stated that China will increase the strength of its nationally determined contributing (NDCs) before COP26 begins. Unfortunately, he has not signalled whether he will attend the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November 2021. As this is a world meeting, having Xi Jinping present at the talks is vitally important since China is world’s top emitters of carbon. The US, in fact, has the largest per capita carbon footprint in the world at 16 tons per person. While China has the world’s largest population it per person emissions are still far below that of the United States.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s envoy on climate change points out that China has agreed to strengthen it commitment to promoting renewable energy in the country in the next 10 years and to scale back of the use of coal.


The United States experienced severe weather in many areas in many areas of the country in 2021. June 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded in areas of the United States. The Pacific Northwest experienced an extraordinary heatwave with temperatures reaching 100-degree Fahrenheit.

Drought in the Western United States set a 122-year record in 2021. Farmers, ranchers and indigenous people all suffered extensively from the drought with little end in sight. These tinder dry conditions leads to wildfires throughout the state.

The wildfires in California were the worst ever, destroying vast areas of forest and many properties. Hurricane Ida devastated many areas in the country from Louisiana to New Year. Eleven people drowned in their basements in New York.

In response to these events, President Joe Biden has vowed to increase the United States ability to respond to extreme weather by lowing carbon emissions significantly.  In October 2021, He has two bills pending on Capitol Hill which includes money for infrastructural work such as repairing roads and bridges, social programmes that will care for the elderly and bring down kindergarten costs. The bills include large amounts of money to tackle climate change by investing extraordinary amounts of money in renewable of energy. One of people blocking the legislation from going through the Senate is Joe Manchin. For over thirty years, Manchin has made a lot of money from Enersystems Inc. a coal brokerage company which he founded in 1988. It is now run by his son. Manchin has publicly objected to the clean energy provisions in the $3.5 tn in Congress and supports building gas-fired power plants.

One can understand the frustration of someone like Joseph Aldy who help craft the climate change bill on President Barack. He finds it fascinating that US energy policy is being drafted by a representative of the fossil fuel industry, rather than being based on the science of climate change.”[48] Manchin does support some climate control methods as long at the policies allow for the continued burning of coal, oil and gras.

In 2010, Manchin opposed Obama’s bill because it was bad for West Virginia, a coal-producing state. In 2021, Manchin plans to amend President Biden’s Clean Energy Performance Programme worth almost $159 billion which is designed to replace most of the US’s gas and  coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear power over the next decade.

Writing in the New York Times, Christopher Flavelle makes the point that while Manchin is blocking President Biden’s bill, his state of West Virginia is very exposed to severe weather and serious flooding. He claims “new data shows that the people of West Virginia stand to suffer disproportionately as climate change intensifiers. Unlike those in other flood-exposed states, most residents in mountainous West Virginia have little room to relocate from the waterways that increasingly threatens their safety.”[49] It is important to emphasise that not dealing with global warming will be much more costly than dealing with it how.

Finally, “If Biden’s bills don’t come to pass, then the U.S. will be coming to Glasgow with some fine words but not much else according to Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General.”[50]

Climate change and the Churches

The Catholic Church gave poor leadership on the dangers of climate change during the 1980’, 1990s or 2000s.  I attended many COPs on climate change during the 1900s and the 2,000s and found very little participation by the official Catholic Church at these important events. One of the first places where climate change was discussed by Pope John Paul was in Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation, which was published on January 1st, 1990. Unfortunately, Pope John Paul mixed up climate change with the gradual depletion of the ozone layer when he claimed that “the gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related “greenhouse effect “has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs.” (Number 5).

In May 2007, the Pontifical Council for Justine and Peace organised a two-day seminar on climate change which I attended with more than eighty people. While there were many excellent presentations from credible scientists, whose writings had been peer reviewed, the organizers also gave a platform to at least four participants who are either in denial about climate change or believe it is a good thing.

One of these was Professor Craig Idso, adjunct professor and chairman of the Office of Climatology at Arizona State University.  He is chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, an institute whose stated mission is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally charged debate that swirl around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change. Many of us wondered why the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace invited these climate sceptics to this meeting, given the scientific position which was taken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at this time.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, published a social encyclical called Caritas et Veritate. There was no mention of climate change in that document though it was published four months before the UN Climate Change conference in November/December 2009 in Copenhagen. Now, just over a decade later, climate change is seen by the Catholic Church as one of the greatest challenges to both humans and the planet.

The document Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene published on May 11, 2011 by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, marks a huge breakthrough in the Vatican’s approach to climate change. It states that the warming of the Earth is unequivocal. The working party which produced the report included glaciologists, climate scientists, meteorologists, hydrologists, physicists, chemists, mountaineers and lawyers. The document states that “Human-caused changes in the composition of the air and air quality result in more than two million premature deaths worldwide every year and threatens water and food security – especially among those bottom three billion people.”

It stresses that bold action is needed immediately. “We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impact of climate change on communities and ecosystems including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home.” Everyone on the planet has some responsibility to deal with climate change, but those who caused the problem in the first place, particularly people in the developed world must act first and help developing countries to cope with climate change.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was published in 2004. Chapter 10 is devoted to safeguarding the environment. It is one of the slimmest chapters in the book running to a mere 15 pages. Chapter 6 on human work has 27 pages. The document does not include an important talk given by Pope John Paul II where he calls for an ‘ecological’ conversion.  In that book there is only one paragraph on climate change and one on the destruction of biodiversity.

Cardinal Pell a climate denier

In his articles in The Sunday Telegraph and the Catholic Weekly, Cardinal Pell, at that time the Archbishop of Sydney had dismissed climate change. In a public lecture delivered in the US in February 2006, he said that:
“Some of the hysterical and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past  animals and even humans were sacrificed in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

In early 2011, Dr Greg Ayers, head of the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia painstakingly examined the scientific claims which Cardinal Pell made in a letter written and tabled at a Senate hearing in Australia. Critics of Cardinal Pell point out that his climate scepticism is based on the work of a geologist called Ian Plimer. But Plimer’s data has been thoroughly debunked by Professor Ian Enting who is a mathematician at the University of Melbourne and one of Plimer’s own colleagues, Professor Barry Brook. Instead of responding to Dr. Greg Ayers’ critique of his arguments, Pell accuses Ayers of being a “hot-air specialist” even though Ayers has 140 peer-reviewed articles to his name and Pell does not have even peer-reviewed scientific paper.

After the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, Cardinal George Pell publicly criticised Pope Francis’ decision to place climate change at the top of the Catholic Church’s agenda. He told the Financial Times that the church has “no particular expertise in science.” This is an extraordinary statement given the damage that climate change is causing in terms of extreme weather and rising sea-levels. If the average global temperature reaches three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels the damage to humanity and the rest of creation will be enormous and long-lasting

The World Council of Churches (WCC)

In 1983, the WCC Assembly in Vancouver adopted a process focused on “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation” (JPIC) through which churches were encouraged to work together on these inter-related themes. Many churches became increasingly focused on environmental concerns during this period, adopting policy statements and initiating education and advocacy activities on specific issues. The JPIC process culminated in a World Convocation on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Seoul Korea in 1990 which I attended. The conference came up with ten theological affirmations and specific covenants for action linking economic inequity, militarism, ecological destruction, and racial injustice and the theological, ethical and spiritual basis for affirming and sustaining life in its fullness

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has given courageous leadership on climate change and other ecological issues through its teaching in Sign of Peril, Test of Faith; Accelerated Climate Change which was published in 1994. In that document it presented theological and ethical reflections on climate change and made it very clear that dealing with climate change would require profound changes in every aspect of human life – transport, accommodation, industry and agriculture.

In Solidarity with Victims of Climate Change, which was published in 2002, the WCC argued that the ecological, economic and political aspects of climate change ought to be assessed from a justice perspective, especially in the light of the growing gap between the rich and poor globally,

In March 1996, the then President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Roger Echegaray wrote to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences in the industrialized countries acknowledged that the World Council of Churches had taken a leading role in drawing the attention of its member Churches to the relationship between climate change and human activity. He encouraged local Catholic leaders to examine ways in which they could co-operate with any WCC inspired initiatives in their countries. Unfortunately, very little happened. Until the Paris conference on climate change in 2015, the Catholic Church played a very minimal role in the various COPs which took place each year.

Laudato Si’

Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home in paragraph 23 makes it clear that “there is a very solid scientific consensus indicating that presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climate system.“ In the same paragraph Pope Francis makes it clear that human beings need to change their lifestyle as well as their production and consumption patterns in order to combat climate change.

In paragraph 25 he points out that the poor who did little to cause climate change will be most affected by it. He writes “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate changes or to face natural disaster and their access to social services and protection is very limited.”

In 2019, Pope Francis endorsed the 1.5 Celsius temperature rise above pre-industrial levels recommended by the Paris COP in 2015. That same year he declared a ‘climate emergency,’ because he believed that “future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility.”[51]

Given the seriousness of the crisis, every parish needs to set up a climate change committee and work with other Christian Churches and other religions to address this critical issue of our time. Such a context of support, at local and national level, will make it possible for people to implement the radical changes in our lifestyle which are demanded by this new IPPC report. And the time to achieve this is very short.

In September 2021 a report from the United Nations warned us that fossil fuel emissions have reached their pre-pandemic levels. Among the findings are that the power and industry were almost at the same level as in January 2019. According to the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres “this is an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are.”[52]

In this short paper on the perils of climate change I outline the enormous damage which climate change is causing to our planet, in terms of extreme weather, including droughts and floods and the rise in the level of our oceans. I go on to assess the efforts which various countries are putting in place to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and, in the light of this, it is not easy to be optimistic that COP26 in Glasgow will be successful.

Some very important leaders will not be there, including, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia and Xi Jinping, the secretary general of the Chinese communist party. The US President Joe Biden will come to Glasgow, but without having nailed down a bill in Congress which would underpin the development of clean energy in that country. Britain in partnership with Italy are leading COP26, but as I outlined earlier Britain’s contribution is poor at home and its unwillingness to raise overseas development aid, means that it is unwilling to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. The tragedy is that we have so little time to changes our ways and a failure will be a disaster for humanity and planet earth for ages to come. Future generation will not forgive us.


[1] Sean McDonagh, Greening the Christian Millennium,” Dominican Publication, 42 Parnell Square, Dublin,” page 68.

[2] Cormac McQuinn, “Martin urges UN Security Council to add climate change to agenda,”  The Irish Times, September 24th,.

[3] Julien Mercille, “Vested interests turn up heat in battle against global warming,” Sunday Independent, August 12, 2021, page 32.

[4] Christ McGreal, “Climate crimes, How a powerful US lobby group helps big oil to block climate action,” The Guardian, July 19th 2021,  https://www.theguardian, com/environmental/2021/jul/19/big-oil-climate-crisis-lobby-group-api.

[5] John Gibbons, “How one tycoon mendacity has dragged us to the age of extinction,” Business Post, September 19th, 2021, page 31.

[6] Adam Vaughan, “Wildfires produce record CO2” New Scientist, August 28th, 2021, page 18.

[7] Jonathan Watts, World ‘must step up preparations for extreme heat,’ The Guardian, July 2021.

[8] Oliver Milman, “Climate breakdown pushing the tropics to ‘limits of livability,” The Guardian, March 9th, 2021, page 27.

[9] Adam Vaughan, “Hurricane Ida climate link, NewScientist September 4th, 2021, page 7.

[10] Donna Lu and Lisa Cox, “Extreme temperatures blamed for 5 million deaths each year,” The Guardian, July 8th, 2021, page `13.

[11] Damien Carrington, “Climate crisis; Scientists sport warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse,” Irish Examiner, June 6th, 2021.

[12] Damien Carrington, “Climate crisis: Scientists spot warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse,” The Irish Examiner, August 6th, 2021.

[13] Michael Marshall, “Antarctic glaciers at risk of unpredictable collapse,” The Guardian, 2 May 2020, page 13.

[14] Adam Vaughan, “Greenland can ’t go green,” New Scientist, May 4th 2021, page 23.

[15] Fiona Harvey, “Drought; Next pandemic” The Guardian, June 17th 2021. https://www.

[16] John Keefe and Rachel Ramirez, Our underwater future: What sea level will look like around the globe. ”CNN, October 12, 2021.

[17] Jillian Ambrose, “Most plans for new coal plants scrapped since the Paris agreement,” The Guardian, September 14th, 2021.

[18] Karl, Mathiesen,  “Green groups call to postpone COP26 over unequal access, UK government responds by announcing new funding for delegates’ hotel quarantine.” Politico, September 7th, 2021.

[19] Mohamed Adow, “With many African climate activists unable to access vaccines, should COP26 go ahead? The Guardian,

[20] Julien Mercille, “Vested interests turn up heat in battle against global warming,” Sunday Independent, August 12, 2021, page 32

[21] Daniel Murry, Lorcan Allen and Michael Brennan, “Climate targets already in doubt as emissions to increase this year,” Business Post, October 24th 2021, page I and 2.

[22] Cormac McQuinn, “Martin urges UN Security Council to add climate change to agenda,” The Irish Times, September 24th.

[23] Caroline O’Doherty, “Climate action could jeopardise 32,000 dairy jobs, report claims,” Irish Independent, October 8th, 2021, page 22

[24] Phelim O’Neill and Anne  Finnegan, “56,400 rural jobs on the line,” Irish Farmers Journal, October 30th 2021, page 1.

[25] Roisin Burke, “Varadkar told Amazon that Eirgrid could not guarantee extra supply for data centres,” Business Post, October 19th, 2021, page 4.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Daniel Murray, “More data centres mean Ireland cannot meet 51% climate target,” Business Post, page June 13th, 2021, page 3.6

[29] Michael Brennan, “Majority of votes believe data centre construction should be restricted, “Business Post, September 12th, 2021, page 2.

[30] John Downing, “Energy supply and price crisis must not stop climate action, says Taoiseach,”  Irish Independent, October 8th 2021, page 5ost

[31] Roy Davies, “Carbon emissions ‘will drop just 40% by 2050 with countries ‘current pledges’,  The Guardian, October 13th 2021. pledges.

[32] ibid

[33] Heather Stewart, “PM says he has changed his mind about the environment,” The Guardian, 21st September 2021, page 4.

[34] ibid

[35] John Gibbons, “How one tycoons mendacity has dragged us to the age of extinction,” Business Post, September 19th 2021, page 31.

[36] ibid

[37] Patrick Wintour, “Climate and equality hit has foreign aid budget cut 40%,” The Guardian. September 24, 2021, page 4.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Fiona Harvey and Toby Helm, “All hot air: UK commits to climate action but not to new funding,” The Observer, June 12th, 2021. https: www.theguardian,com.environment.2021/jun12/all-hot-air-uk-commits-to-climate-action-but-not-new-funding.

[40] Neil Hume, “Mine go-ahead risk denting UK’s authority, inquiry told,” The Financial Times, September 9th, 2021. Page 2.

[41] Fiona Harvey, “Energy expert: only way to keep the world safe is to stop oil and gas investment now,” The Guardian, 18 May 2021, page 30.

[42] Peter Capaldi, “A new oilfield would be a disaster,” The Guardian, October 11th, 2021, page 4

[43] Harrier Bradshaw, BBC News, August 17th, 2021.

[44] Ibid.

[45] David Stanway, “China’s hard climate stance with the US imperils Glasgow talks,” The Irish Examiner, September 16th, 2021, page.

[46]  Keith Bradsher, “China’s Power Problems Expose a Strategic Weakness,” New York Times, October 13th, 2021.

[47] Rob Davies, “Blow to COP26 as China pushes coal and gas plan,” The Guardian, October 13th 2021, page 1 and 7.

[48] Ibid

[49] Christopher Flavelle, “As Manchin Blocks Climate Plan, His State Can’t Hold Back Floods,” The New York Times, October 17th 2021.

[50] Brad Plumer and Winston Choi-Schagrin, “Major Climate Action at Stake in Fight Over Two bills Pending in Congress,” The New York Times, page October 10th 2021. Https:

[51] Fiona Harvey and Jillian Ambrose, “Pope Francis declares ‘climate emergency’ and urges action.” The Guardian, June 14th, 2019.

[52] Paul Hosford and Emily Beament, “World far off course to tackle climate change,” Irish Examiner, September 17th, 2021, page 1 and 7.