November 23, 2011

Mercy International Association at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban

The UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) takes place in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 09 and Mercy International Association will be well represented by Sisters Aine O’Connor and Immaculata Devine. Aine O’Connor is the Interim coordinator for Mercy Global Action, Mercy International Association at the United Nations in New York, while Sister Immaculata Devine represents the South African Region of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy Ireland.

Since the UNFCCC entered into force in 1995, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC have been meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The Durban Conference (COP17) aims to adopt decisions and resolutions and make up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the Convention.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Kyoto's first commitment period finishes at the end of 2012, and the question of whether governments will sign up to a second commitment period is seen by many as the linchpin of the negotiations. Mary Robinson spoke at climate change conference in Dublin on September 5th of this year and said that “a legally binding agreement is needed to ensure that richer nations provide adequate and technical support to enable the poorest countries to adapt to climate change and embrace low-carbon development”. This is the greatest challenge to COP 17 as the Kyoto Protocol represents the only legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge is made even difficult since the United States have never taken part in the treaty and powerful countries such as Canada, Russia and Japan have stated that they would not support an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, rejecting a new round of the climate emissions pact. Canada has stated it could not achieve the binding emissions cuts it has committed to under the first round of Kyoto up to 2012, infuriating environmentalists and developing countries while Japan is particularly concerned about losing economic competitiveness given that its main economic rivals are not covered by any internationally binding targets. "The world's number one emitter (China) has no obligations under Kyoto, the number two emitter (US) is not a party and the number three emitter (India) has no obligations," Akira Yamada of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the specialist reporting service Point Carbon News recently.

Mercy International Association has produced a Statement on Climate Change setting out its call to action to participating governments at COP 17 where it outlines its five priorities for the Conference and for the future of the planet. These include absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the termination of market based solutions to climate change, the creation of innovative approaches to climate change and the provision of necessary funding to developing countries to mitigate poverty caused by climate change. The statement can be read in full here:

Climate Change

Statement of Mercy International Association to Governments Participating in the 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Climate change epitomizes one of the greatest moral imperatives of our time. As citizens of our planet, our challenge is to advance to positive action, halt global warming and mitigate the negative impact of climate change on the future sustainability of this planet and on the entire community of life.

Clearly, our most impoverished citizens are disproportionately bearing the impact of climate change that includes lack of food, water, sanitation and energy securities. The devastating results are lost development opportunities, rising poverty, desertification, biodiversity loss, fresh water depletion and global warming.

Mercy International Association, whose members live and minister in forty-seven countries worldwide, calls upon world leaders and governments participating in the 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17) to focus on "the wellbeing, justice, and sustainability of the community of life” as the center and core of their negotiations.

Thus, it is imperative at this moment of opportunity that you:

  • lead decisively in effecting absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in consumption patterns;
  • terminate market-based solutions to climate change such as Cap & Trade and carbon offsetting;
  • undertake collaborative action to create radical, sustainable, ecological and innovative approaches to climate change.
  • adopt and ratify a just and legally binding international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2012; and,
  • provide necessary levels of funding and technological support to developing countries to adapt and mitigate the extreme poverty and ecosystem degradation caused by climate change;

The planet and future generations depend upon you and upon your positive action – now.

Cap & Trade can be described as "pollution credits”. Air quality goals are set for a country and it is given a carbon allowance, representing the amount of pollutants that they are allowed to use. If they use under the allowance given, they can sell their leftover allowances to others on the global market. Essentially this system allows those that buy leftover allowances the ability to pollute more, because others are polluting less.

Carbon Offsetting is a reduction in carbon dioxide emission made in order to compensate for an emission made elsewhere. Carbon offset schemes allow individuals, companies and governments to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their carbon usage.

World governments, international organizations and civil society coming together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban face enormous challenges in this very important work and need our support and prayers from a community, ethical and moral point of view. There are three ways that we can all participate in and support this vital work.

  3. PRAY.


The Earth Charter Initiative is a diverse, global network of people, organizations, and institutions that participate in promoting and implementing the values and principles of the Earth Charter. The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations. The mission of the Earth Charter Initiative “is to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace”.

You can join the join the campaign and sign up to the charter by using the following link

Ethics is a crucial element, often missing in climate change negotiations. The importance of educating people, the press, negotiators and the individual cannot be understated. This following provides a good education piece on the ethics of climate change and the video features an interview with Donald A. Brown, Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University. The interview can be viewed here.

There are no international treaties or national laws required to initiate change. Everyone has to make a personal decision as to how they will participate and education is vital to bring about awareness of the issues at stake. “The System Change Not Climate Change Project” is a project organised by the Council of Canadians Climate Justice for People and the Planet campaign. This project features videos from a range of speakers including academics, workers and activists who address questions of system change, why it is now needed and gives examples of a new way forward. The project aims to build awareness and inspire actions for climate justice throughout the world through community-based teach-ins using these videos. Their website encourages people to learn about the underlying causes of climate change. They encourage groups to watch the DVD that address the system change needs in the lead up and post Durban. The website can be accessed @


It is not simply a decision of politicians or of a government; it is in our own interest to introduce fundamental changes in our attitude and behaviour. We do not need to wait for others to change, we must change ourselves. Positive action on the part of individuals is equally as important to counter global warming as that of governments, NGOs and corporations. It is really about our personal behaviour - we can start to change our consciousness immediately. Simple changes to our lifestyle can make a change a difference. The following is a selection of small lifestyle changes that are easy to make but will have a positive and long term affect on the environment.

  • Cut out short car trips. Cars release the most emissions when cold. Plan your shopping so you can make fewer shopping trips each week.
  • Remove unnecessary weight from your vehicle; this will cut down fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
  • One of the greatest fuel guzzling issues is caused by improper tyre inflations.
  • Use public transport wherever possible.
  • If you don't need it, switch it off at the wall. Appliances running on standby power consume a great deal of energy, unnecessarily.
  • Take shorter showers and use the shower instead of the bath.
  • Turn down the heat or air-conditioning a fraction.
  • Recycle whatever you can. While recycling glass, paper, and cans does require energy to reform new products, it's far less than having to mine, drill or harvest the raw resources.
  • See if you can work from home a day a week. This will save energy, time and money and will also help your employer save on energy.
  • Switch off lights, when not in use.
  • Don't burn leaf litter, mulch or compost it instead - burning vegetation spews great volumes of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping pollutants into the atmosphere.
  • Try to source locally, organically grown fruits and vegetables. Some green produce is shipped thousands of miles in refrigerated trucks before it hits your supermarket.
  • Cut down a little on red meat - the livestock industry is responsible for millions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas, entering our atmosphere each year.

The carbon footprint of doing the dishes:

Almost zero CO2e: by hand in cold water (but the plates aren't clean)
540g CO2e: by hand, using water sparingly and not too hot
770g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 55°C
990g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 65°C
8000g CO2e: by hand, with extravagant use of water
As the numbers above show, the most careful hot-water hand washing just about beats a fully loaded dishwasher. This is partly because most people do their manual washing up using hot water heated by a gas-fired boiler, whereas dishwashers heat water from cold using electricity. A modern boiler can capture more than 90% of the energy in the gas, whereas most of the energy in the fuel used to generate electricity is wasted in generation and transmission, which gives hand washing an obvious head start.

The carbon footprint of a cup of tea or coffee:

21g CO2e: black tea or coffee, boiling only the water you need
53g CO2e: white tea or coffee, boiling only the water you need
71g CO2e: white tea or coffee, boiling double the water you need
235g CO2e: a large cappuccino
340g CO2e: a large latte

These small initiatives may not be as crucial as the homes we heat and the cars we drive but – depending on how we take them – hot drinks can make up a surprisingly large slice of our carbon footprints. If you drink four mugs of black tea per day, boiling only as much water as you need, that works out as just 30kg of CO2e each year – the same as a 40-mile drive in an average car. Three large lattes per day, by contrast, and you're looking at almost twenty times as much carbon, equivalent to flying half way across Europe.

Further examples of living a “light carbon footprint” can be viewed here.


All Creation a Symphony
by Hildegard of Bingen

All of creation is a symphony of joy and jubilation.
Now here is the image of the power of God... I am one whose praise echoes on high. I adorn all the earth. I am the breeze that nurtures all things green. I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits. I am led by the spirit to free the purest streams. I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life. I am the yearning for good...

Prayer: Creator God, may we awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. May we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper and realize our onesness. Through your great love, may we respond to the Planet's endangerment with passion. Amen.

Adapted from Hildegard of Bingern, Mystic for the Ecological Awakening, EarthSaints,p.10. Gloria Durka, Fordham University. A special publication of EarthLight, Magazine.

Canticle of the Sun
by Francis of Assisi

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing. To you alone Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worth to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all its splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord through Brothers Wind and Air. And clouds and storms, and all the weather through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water, she is very useful, and humble, and precious and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through our (sister) Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; to those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve the Lord with great humility.

Creator Lord, we stand amazed,
And for your earth, we give you praise

The smoothest pebble on the shore,
Detritus on the forest floor,
The undiscovered depth of space,
The wrinkles on a baby’s face,
Each sparrow and each human hair
Is numbered and is in your care,
All iron and oil and diamonds too,
Whilst used by us, belongs to you,
Forgive us Lord, for we forget,
All things are yours, and yet,

Provider Lord, we stand amazed,
And with your earth we give you praise

All of earth’s greatest mysteries,
And all our personal histories,
Each planet and each grain of sand
You hold them in your nail-scarred hands
You feed the birds and clothe the flowers,
You warm the soil and send the flowers,
You sound the rhythms of the earth,
Of tides and seasons, death and birth’
It is for you creation sings,
The head, the centre of all things,

Sustainer Lord, we stand amazed,
And with your earth we give you praise.

Lord God before all time began,
Yet you became a Son of Man,
You stepped into the world you made,
A world once good, now spoilt, decayed,
As Son of man your death reversed
The chaos of all creation’s curse,
The earth itself quaked on that day,
Released from bondage to decay,
All things are reconciled to you,
Creation’s hope is born anew.

Redeemer Lord, we stand amazed
And with your earth we give you praise

based on Colossians 1:15-20 (with Romans 8:18-22. Philippians 2:5-11, Ephesians 1:9-10, Revelations 21:5)


God of all grace
Who in Jesus cried, 'I thirst',
Hold the people of east Africa in your infinite love.
Be with those for whom the earth's resources have run dry;
Be with those who must walk for miles to find their daily bread;
Be with those for whom survival is a fragile hope.
And be with us as we read the stories of those who bear such acute suffering;
Give us hearts of compassion to respond in your service,
So that together we may see restoration where there is pain,
And all may rejoice in your goodness.

From Christian Aid Prayer at

Messages to Betty Lacey - Intern at Mercy Global Action

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