Climate Change is “structural sin”, Bishops in Africa Say, Demand World Leaders’ Action

A poster announcing the October 17 press conference. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Members of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) have joined other faith-based and civil society actors in demanding that world “decision makers” act fast to address the climate change crisis, which they say is a “striking example of structural sin.”

In a communiqué that the First Vice President of SECAM read out on Monday, October 17 on behalf of Catholic Bishops in Africa and members of the African Climate Dialogues steering committee, climate change was also described as “a moral outrage”, which has plunged many populations on the African continent into deep suffering.

“Climate change is a moral outrage. It is a tragic and striking example of structural sin, facilitated by callous indifference and selfish greed. The climate crisis is leading to the destruction of our planet, the devastation of the lives of the poor, and the detriment of future generations,” Fridolin Besungu Cardinal Ambongo said.

Cardinal Ambongo added, “We, Church leaders and civil society organizations in Africa and beyond, demand world leaders, business leaders and decision makers to heed to this important communiqué, and in so doing, heed to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.”

Members of SECAM and the African Climate Dialogues launched the communiqué in a virtual conference that was followed by over 50 participants from various organizations. The document brings together suggestions and requests from an African perspective ahead of the UN climate conference COP27.


The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who also serves as the President of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of SECAM expressed concern that the climate crisis has become “a lived reality for people across Africa”.

Highlighting some of the devastation that is being experienced across the continent owing to climate change, Cardinal Ambongo said, “Recent summer heatwaves in the north of the continent have caused massive social and economic losses and damages, breaking temperature records and severely disrupting agri-food systems in an already hungry region.”

“Storms and cyclones early in the year caused devastation in Southern Africa, resulting in the destruction of homes and the loss of lives. Eastern Africa is facing the worst food crisis in a generation, precipitated by extreme drought. In West Africa, cities are flooded, communities in the creeks are submerged, conflicts which have simmered for years are now intensifying due to climate-induced displacement,” the member of SECAM Standing Committee said. 

He went on to lament, “Wherever you look on this continent, a continent already struggling due to an unjust global economic system, you see climate change holding back the potential for development.”

The Congolese Cardinal acknowledged the difficulty in addressing the climate change crisis, which he described as a “complex situation”, and added, “We can, however, be certain of a few things. For example, we know that the Global North is largely responsible for the climate crisis and must contribute their fair share to address it.”

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He said that the global giants have the biggest responsibility to lead the way in emissions reductions, providing funding for climate adaptation, loss and damage, and supporting countries in the Global South to achieve just levels of development within planetary boundaries.

“The solutions to this crisis must not continue the business-as-usual approach that is responsible for creating the problem in the first place and will only enrich wealthy nations and individuals at the expense of the world’s poor,” he said.

The member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M., Cap) who was elevated to Cardinal in October 2019 and appointed to the Vatican’s Council of Cardinals in October 2020 recalled that in the Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis proposed dialogue and encounter as a means of building a more just world.

He said that the Holy Father’s proposition was the inspiration for the African Climate Dialogues, a series of conversations hosted by Catholic Church actors and civil society in Africa to discuss, learn from each other and identify key policy priorities ahead of COP27 in Egypt.

“These dialogues included community and civil society representatives with lived experiences of climate change, researchers and professional advocates with policy expertise, officials from all levels of government, and leaders in the Catholic Church who could frame the pressing ethical questions raised by climate change in terms of the action of God and the demands of justice,” Cardinal Ambongo said.


The African Climate Dialogues is an initiative bringing together Church and civil society actors as well as allies including communities and religious leaders from across the African continent and European organizations.

From July to September, five sessions of the African Climate Dialogues were held. These were: False Climate Solutions and the Congo Basin; Food Systems, agriculture and adaptation; Finance; Loss and Damage and Adaptation; and Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement.

Each of these sessions saw a diverse list of stakeholders and experts come together to discuss and reflect on their experience, with a special emphasis on the moral and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis and what action is needed at COP27.

Participants were invited to respond to expert presentations, dialogue with each other and contribute to a shared output.

The communiqué, which SECAM and members of the African Climate Dialogues launched on October 17 was the culmination of what was deliberated upon in these sessions.

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On False Climate Solutions and the Congo Basin, the participants in the African Climate Dialogues have, among other proposals, underscored the need to transform Africa’s fossil fuel energy system to one that is powered by renewable energy sources in order to fairly and equitably provide energy for people and promote energy sovereignty, and to protect the rights of communities and ecosystems while at it.

The participants have also underlined the need to promote peace and regional integration in Africa, especially in the Congo Basin, by protecting ecosystems, regenerate Lake Chad basin, respecting human rights, establishing and enforcing binding regulations and the rule of law, and sensitizing the public on climate change impacts.

They have further expressed the need to establish and restore community-based management of natural resources like forests, rangelands and fishing grounds, and to transition to new sources of energy that are locally produced, cheap, accessible and benefit local and indigenous communities in Africa.

On Food Systems, Agriculture and Adaptation, members of the African Climate Dialogues have found it necessary to make agroecology a prominent theme at COP27.

Among a set of key issues on Climate Finance, the participants say that the Global North “must pay” the ecological debt it owes to the Global South.

They further underscore the need to provide new, accessible, adequate, predictable and additional climate finance from public sources that supports the needs of people and local communities.

The faith-based entities and civil organizations also underline the need to provide a loss and damage finance facility at COP27 funded by penalties levied against private and public sector polluters based on well-defined measurements including from public sources.

“Faith leaders, including the Holy See, senior Church leaders, and the Bishops of Africa, should speak out in support of civil society on the issue of loss and damage at COP27,” the participants in the dialogues have said.

SECAM and members of the African Climate Dialogues have also, in their sessions, discussed the issue of Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement and highlighted the strong interconnection between climate, migration, conflict and food security. This situation, they have said, requires urgent awareness, comprehensive policies, better nexus between humanitarian and sustainable development aid, and adequate financing.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.