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Holy See reps at COP28 have clear points, even without Pope

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 11/29/23

While the Pope has canceled his trip, the Holy See's 7-member delegation can still make heard the voice of marginalized populations.
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Since 2022, the Holy See has been a party to the convention of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP). As such, it is preparing to take part in COP28 in Dubai from November 30 to December 12. The delegation will be small, with seven people, alongside over 70,000 delegates from some 200 invited countries.

The voice of those without a voice

Having joined the Paris Agreement convention on October 4, 2022, the Holy See can now take part in the negotiations and work on the texts. This new status as a party to the convention — and no longer simply an observer state — is “a great novelty in terms of involvement,” a Vatican source close to the matter tells I.Media.

But alongside the delegations sent by the major countries, the seven Vatican delegates seem a meager number. “The Holy See clearly has a different role,” explains the source. It’s not a question of getting involved in all the themes, but of bringing “the voice of those who don’t take part in the negotiations, such as indigenous peoples, marginalized populations — to act as a bridge for countries that have less of an echo.”

Of course the presence of Pope Francis would have provided exceptional support for the delegation’s work. The Vatican announced the cancellation of his trip on the evening of November 28, but said that it would still look for ways to participate.

Still, the Holy See delegation members include staff from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, one of the Vatican’s largest departments. “On environmental, ecological, and social issues, the Pope’s leadership is indisputable, even among non-Catholics. On climate issues, the Pope has a lot of credibility. He has a very strong symbolic voice,” argues the environmental expert. 

The nearly 87-year-old Pontiff has given the Vatican a clear roadmap with his apostolic exhortationLaudate Deum, a sequel to the encyclical Laudato si’. The text centers on the UN forum; one entire chapter is dedicated to the failure of the COPs, and another to the Dubai summit. 

The Holy See’s points of attention 

According to our information, the Holy See will be particularly vigilant this year in following up on the loss and damage fund voted in at the previous COP. This fund of money, intended for developing countries suffering the consequences of climate change, is related to the “ecological debt” of rich, polluting countries, which Francis talks about in his documents. 

“Nothing has yet been defined on how this fund will work, or who pays or who receives… At COP28, one of the points of attention will be to understand how it works,” says the expert. According to him, the Vatican is specifically interested in the question of “non-economic losses,” such as those suffered by local cultures — including biodiversity and religious heritage. It is difficult to quantify these losses, but the Vatican considers them to be significant. The concern behind the walls of Vatican City is that “if this fund is not given continuity, we’ll go from one failure to the next, and attention to these COPs will wane.” 

The COP27 summit, on November 20, 2022.

Another theme of interest to the Holy See is “mitigation,” one of the pillars of the Paris Agreement, under which states commit to reducing carbon emissions. “In recent years, this theme has been central to the environment. Now it’s going off course. We’re talking more about repairing damage than preventing it,” notes the environmentalist.

And he adds, “Many industrialized countries have little interest in serving this cause.”

Vatican City, working towards zero emissions

As a party to the convention, the Holy See was also required to submit a nationally determined contribution (NDC), a sort of regularly updated action plan for achieving zero emissions. This technical program, produced by the Vatican City Governorate, was sent to the UN secretariat and is published on the organization’s official website.

Pope FrancisUnited NationsVatican
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