This November, world leaders, official negotiators, scientists and activists descended on a small resort town nestled in Egypt between Mount Sinai and the Red Sea for the yearly U.N. Climate Conference, COP27. I had the great privilege of traveling to attend this important event along with leaders and civil society members from around the world. Before you ask: No, I did not see the pyramids. I did, however, get to sit in on some of the conversations and negotiations which are going to shape our future. I shouted with people calling for change, celebrated when progress was made and shared in frustration at what was ignored.
As the conference came to a close, there was excitement around the historic decision to create a loss and damage fund designated for helping vulnerable communities most directly affected by the growing detrimental effects of climate change. This new innovation would help places like Pakistan, where just earlier this year deadly floods, exacerbated by climate change, killed over 1,500 people. Despite what many consider a big win, the 197 countries at the conference failed to produce an agreement for limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, failed to promise transitions away from fossil fuels and failed to generate the $100 billion dollars promised for sustainable transitions in developing countries.
Coming back home to Notre Dame after the excitement, frustration, hope and fear from my week at COP27, it was somewhat shocking to find everything moving along as usual — students walking to class, boom-boom chicken salad in the dining hall and Duke, the Farley Hall dog, waiting to say hi from my rector’s room. But coming back, I couldn’t help but think of our home here in a bit of a different light. At Notre Dame, we are not exempt from the “throwaway culture” which has driven much of the exploitation and negligence leading to the climate crisis. While many encouraging steps have been taken here to reduce our impact on climate, there is still more that could be and needs to be done if we are to claim an identity of solidarity and concern for the common good.
Just one example is where we invest. In 2018, more than 8 million people died from fossil fuel pollution, yet we still invest part of our endowment in something that is known to be deadly and detrimental to the climate. Pope Francis has laid out a Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which provides a framework for places like Notre Dame to take concrete steps toward climate justice, but Notre Dame has yet to adopt it. While at COP27, I spoke with climate activist Vanessa Nakate, and she was disappointed to hear that a place rooted in faith like ours fails to live up to our moral calling to care for creation and for our neighbors. Just like the United Nations Conference of the Parties, we still have more work to do.
One step that we can all take is to show our legislators that we care through calls, visits or even emails! Even now, as Congress is working on the Fiscal Year budget for 2023, there is a proposal for $11 billion for international climate finance, which would help the U.S. to keep some of our promises to aid in the climate crisis and take responsibility for our contributions. If you would like to call your elected officials prior to the recess on Dec. 15, you can easily do so by following these instructions.
This does not depend entirely on institutions, either. At COP27, even though governments were the ones making the official decisions, the many organizations and individuals working for climate justice gave me the most hope. Having more mindfulness about how our own actions might impact the climate on an individual level can promote change, whether that is having one more meatless meal every week, buying clothes second hand or finding times where we could take the (free!) public transportation around South Bend rather than driving our cars. I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to these things, but I truly believe that intentionality and accountability will help us to generate a culture of care for our planet and our community — both here in South Bend and all around the world. We all have a stake in caring for our planet, and we all must take part in working to protect it.