Caring for our Environment during and after COVID-19

Due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and industry, many regions and the planet as a whole, experienced a drop in air pollution. Reducing air pollution can reduce both climate change and COVID-19 risks but it is not yet clear which types of air pollution (if any) are common risks to both climate change and COVID-19. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported that methods to contain the spread of coronavirus, such as quarantines and travel bans, resulted in a 25 per cent reduction of carbon emission in China. Independently and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers argued that reduced economic activity would also help decrease global warming as well as air and marine pollution, allowing the environment to slowly flourish.

However, the COVID outbreak has also provided cover for illegal activities such as deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and poaching in Africa. It has hindered environmental diplomacy efforts, and created economic fallout that some predict will slow investment in green energy technologies. The Center for Strategic & International Studies also argued that reductions in emissions, due to economic downturns, should not be seen as necessarily having long term benefits, as countries will attempt to return to their previous rates of growth and supply chain disruptions may well worsen its environmental impact.

Pope Francis has called climate change ‘a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods.’ It is, he states, ‘one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day’. As such, climate change calls for ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’ – or “integral ecology” (Source: Laudato Si’ or Care for our Common Home)*

Climate change poses a huge threat to poverty eradication and, since 2016, CAFOD, in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has analysed UK public support for energy in developing countries to see if it is aligned with the UK’s climate change and development goals. Evidence from CAFOD’s 42 partner countries shows that a changing climate is making it more difficult for poor communities to lift themselves out of poverty.

The most urgent change needed is to shift from polluting fossil fuels to more sustainable and efficient energy systems. This shift must also benefit the billions of people who currently do not have modern energy. As the new Sustainable Development Goal 7 on energy recognises, universal access to affordable, reliable and safe energy by 2030 is crucial to end poverty and for sustainable development.

CAFOD is collaborating with the International Institute for Environment and Development on approaches to planning energy services to meet the needs of poor communities, ensuring sustainability and maximizing development impact. It is also collaborating with the ODI to research the availability and impact of support for access to modern energy by poor and vulnerable groups. For more about CAFOD’s policy work on climate change, integral ecology and sustainable energy for everyone, see Towards Resilient and Sustainable Communities: A CAFOD toolkit to Support Integrated Programme design.

In Laudato si, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord, Pope Francis extends a profound invitation to everyone on the planet to take greater care of our common home.

‘In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.’ This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters…’