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Catholic Agencies in Europe, North America Oppose Engineered Methods in Climate Change

Logo of CIDSE, the umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic development agencies in Europe and North America are concerned that the increasing popularity of the use of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and engineered methods in global climate policy may introduce technologies that are more detrimental to the environment.

In a set of “policy demands” to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), officials of the International Cooperation for Development Solidarity (CIDSE) note that NbS show ambiguity and are open to abuse.

The officials acknowledge the role of NbS in achieving the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C as adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement at COP 21, but note that such solutions are likely to render policy efforts ineffective.

“The use of NbS (Nature-based Solutions) in global climate policy is gaining popularity because of the rising pressure to close the emissions gap arising from prolonged climate inaction,” CIDSE officials say in their statement shared with ACI Africa ahead of the COP26 meeting set to held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

They add, “Although NbS shows promising theoretical potential towards achieving the 1.5°C goal, its definitional ambiguity may cause confusion, open the door to hijacking, and abuse by vested interests, which may render policy efforts ineffective.”

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According to the officials of the 18-member international Catholic alliance, NbS which they describe as a “precarious confusion” specifically veils technologies whose budgets for countries are “unrealistic.”

“Hidden behind this precarious confusion is a growing push to invest substantially in Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) based on false growth assumptions, and the illusion that there is still a greater budget that allows the transfer of necessary action to the future, which is neither realistic nor desirable,” the officials say.

Nature-based solutions in climate change have been described as actions that protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems to address societal challenges. 

They include  rangeland restoration in South Africa, which has been said to reduce local communities’ vulnerability to drought while providing more job opportunities, and the forest restoration and agroforestry practices in Mount Elgon in Uganda, which reduces landslide risks while also increasing forest cover in key watersheds.

Geoengineering, on the other hand, encompasses sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky so the atmosphere will trap less heat. It also includes reflecting more sunlight away from the planet so less heat is absorbed.

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Scholars have reportedly agreed that “sucking carbon dioxide” also described as “negative emissions technologies” will avoid dangerous levels of warming the planet.

Others describe geoengineering as a “blanket term” that includes ideas like setting up sun shields in space or dispersing microscopic particles in the air in various ways to make coastal clouds more reflective, dissipate heat-trapping cirrus clouds, or scatter sunlight in the stratosphere.

In their statement that addresses a wide variety of climate issues shared with ACI Africa, CIDSE officials oppose geoengineering and call on governments around the world to ensure a shift to 100 percent renewable energy sources in order to meet the 1.5°C goal by 2030, “without geo-engineered solutions such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.”

They add, “We maintain that urgent transitions in our food and energy systems, supported by deep lifestyle and system changes, would significantly contribute to keeping warming below a 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial average global temperatures, without relying on risky and unproven Negative Emissions Technologies or geoengineering.”

CIDSE officials also call upon governments to rapidly restore ecosystems and to put in place stricter policies and measures to prevent deforestation and degradation and land clearance.

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Such policies, they say, should be implemented while prioritizing people and not markets by full engagement and consent of indigenous peoples and local communities.

In their statement the CIDSE officials address a variety of other climate issues intervention efforts post-COVID-19, the situation of Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs), just energy transition, climate finance and carbon markets.

The officials also addressed climate and agriculture and the Paris rule book, which they said should address human rights issues.

“Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, parties should, when acting to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,” they say.

The Catholic leaders note that human rights violation happens as finance institutions and companies that implement the projects place profit over rights and community consent because of inadequate policies, or failure to implement the correct policies.

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They note that a rulebook without the consideration of human rights cannot provide guidelines for ensuring that the Paris framework is implemented fairly and effectively using robust monitoring and accounting processes.

Commenting on the climate issues post-COVID-19, CIDSE officials say, “The current health crisis should not be used as an excuse to continue allowing any fossil fuel subsidies, unsustainable largescale production and consumption of goods and services and debt increases.”

They say that responding to the climate and health crises requires a climate resilient response and recovery, adding, “We believe that massively investing in a just transition to clean and renewable energy sources is crucial to achieving a just recovery.”

“Our survival depends on an inclusive economy that actively promotes healthy and thriving ecosystems and protects human rights as well as the dignity of all people,” the CIDSE members say.

The officials of the 45-year-old Belgium-based alliance of Catholic agencies also call for the scaling up of support for developing countries, a move they say will shift to renewable energy systems.

The officials said that the richest 1 percent of the world's population accounted for double the share of the total emissions of the lowest 50 percent during the 1990–2015 period, adding that this is the population that should take the lead in efforts to reduce emissions.

“As the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise, historical polluters…bear the greatest responsibility and have the greatest means to rapidly reduce emissions,” the CIDSE officials say.

They add, “Industrialized nations have a moral and legal responsibility (under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement) to go beyond global average efforts in reducing their emissions in light of their historical responsibility, and a duty to support developing nations to implement their own Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs).”

On climate and agriculture, the officials note that a deep transformation of agriculture and food systems is required to meet the long-term goal of 1.5°C and to contribute to the full realization of the right to food.

“At CIDSE, we strongly believe that agroecology and its principles, when firmly rooted in food sovereignty and climate justice, are the way to move away from a model that threatens present and future agricultural production and food security,” they say.

CIDSE officials note that the next COP26 and the negotiation sessions leading towards it will have to deal with several long-term decisions regarding international climate finance.

Such decisions, CIDSE leadership says, will include the financial support provided by wealthy nations to developing nations to support their respective climate change actions.