EPA Chief on Climate Change Mission to the Vatican

EPA Chief on Climate Change Mission to the Vatican

Perceiving a unique opportunity to engage the Vatican on the topic of climate change, U.S. EPA Chief Gina McCarthy is meeting on Friday at the Holy See in Rome. In addition to Vatican officials, she will also meet with Catholic journalists and Italian business leaders on the same day.

McCarthy, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, told the National Catholic Reporter that her meeting at the Vatican is her “most important stop” on her five-day trip to Europe. Focusing on discussing President Obama’s climate action plan, McCarthy will also be outlining the EPA’s role in domestic and international efforts to address climate change mitigation efforts.

“Climate Change is Indeed a Moral Issue”

“I think that the president and myself agree that climate change is indeed a moral issue,” the EPA chief said. “It is about protecting those most vulnerable.” McCarthy continued, “and EPA’s job, as focusing on public health and environmental protection, always tasked ourselves to look at those most vulnerable and to ensure that when we’re taking action we’re addressing their needs most effectively.”

Among the Vatican officials McCarthy will be meeting is Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Last August, Turkson delivered the first draft to Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment. The Pope has indicated that the encyclical will publish in June or July, in time for the Paris 2015 international climate summit in December.

EPA Offers Support for Vatican Climate Action

Speaking to the NCR about the upcoming meeting, EPA Chief McCarthy expressed that the president is committed to addressing climate change. Hoping “to provide whatever support they think is advisable and appropriate,” she added that her interest is in encouraging the dialogue to continue. Talking about the shared U.S. and Vatican concerns help “to really highlight this issue and begin to turn that into concrete actions that protect those that are most vulnerable and our key natural resources.”

This past summer, McCarthy called Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the Domestic Justice and Human Development committee of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, thanking him for his May letter of support for the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

Support Builds for the EPA Clean Power Plan

The EPA Clean Power Plan calls for reducing carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Accounting for one-third of the nation’s fossil fuel emissions, U.S. power plants spew the larger portion of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. By mid-2015, the EPA’s final version of the Clean Power Plan is expected to be launched, together with additional rules applying to new and modified or reconstructed power plants.

The EPA received more than 2 million comments during the official commenting period, which ended last month on December 1. The U.S. Bishops’ Conference actively encouraged Catholics to participate in the commenting period, and the Catholic Climate Covenant held educational events for this at eight Catholic colleges and institutions in five states.

According to the NCR, in two letters to the EPA, the bishops stressed the critical need to reduce carbon pollution because of its effect on poor people, who often suffer the most from pollution impacts. They stated that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has seen “the tragic consequences of climate change” in communities around the world. Some of these impacts are reduced crop yields due to limited water access, more droughts and intensified storms, and widespread disease. CRS notes that “all these are making the lives of the world’s poorest people even more precarious.”

“Climate Change is a Profound Threat to Humanity”

Just this week, President Obama addressed the link between carbon pollution and poverty at his meeting in India. The two nation’s leaders signed a joint statement agreeing that they “recognize that global climate change is a profound threat to humanity and to the imperatives of sustainable development, growth and the eradication of poverty.”

In America, EPA Chief McCarthy told the NCR, the relationship between climate change and vulnerable populations is evident among Native American tribes. Many tribes in the West are already struggling with the impacts on their native ways, due to extended, severe droughts. Rising sea levels are also seriously impacting tribes in southern Louisiana.

The NCR also points out that internationally, Vietnamese governmental officials have expressed concern over how even a small sea level rise in the Mekong Delta region could displace millions of people. Pope Francis just concluded a visit to the storm-battered Philippines, as well, in a well-attended show of support for this climate-impacted nation.

“Millions if Not Billions of People at Risk”

McCarthy stated, “Let’s keep in mind that environment isn’t just a natural resource issue or a safety problem. It is a fundamental threat to the economies across the world.” Continuing, she added, “And that’s why it’s important to have Pope Francis continue to speak as clearly as he can because there are millions if not billions of people at risk here who the Catholic church and other faiths have been focused on for many, many years. And it’s those individuals that we need to speak for, and to help.”

Reiterating the need to assist the world’s most vulnerable populations by addressing climate change, U.S. EPA Chief Gina McCarthy stated, “I think they’re very much linked.” In regard for protecting the Earth, as well, McCarthy also declared, “Clearly, climate change is an issue that is impactful in terms of how we’re not just going to protect the most vulnerable but also take responsibility for protecting God’s natural resources.”

image (Image note and source: EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, wikicommons
(Top image note and source: The Vatican in Rome, Italy, from wikicommons)
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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.