Anthony Annett is a climate change and sustainable development advisor at the Earth Institute (Columbia University) and in this position is affiliated with Religions for Peace. He is a frequent contributor to Commonweal and has published a programmatic essay on an economy of inclusion in Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis.
The contents of this interview respect the Vatican embargo on discussing the contents of the encyclical until they are officially published on Thursday.
The interview began last week and finished yesterday as the encyclical draft was leaked. The flow of the Q&A might reflect this. ====================================================
Artur Rosman: What is the nature of your involvement with the Catholic side of environmental protection?
Tony Annett: There’s nothing mysterious about that. I work jointly with the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the NGO “Religions for Peace” on the moral and religious dimensions of climate change and sustainable development. At its core, the idea of sustainable development is about getting beyond mere accumulation (as in GDP) and also addressing social inclusion and environmental sustainability. It is really about creating the conditions for human flourishing – of those alive today, no matter where they live, and those not yet born. So the values of sustainable development cohere with the values of the major religious traditions, and we need to draw out that connection.
This is an extremely important year for sustainable development. There will be 3 major conferences. Leaders will meet in Addis Ababa in July to discuss financing issues. In September, 193 countries will formally adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals. And in December, leaders flock to Paris for the last real chance to come to agreement on reducing carbon emissions and keeping the increase to global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels (any warming after that, and all hell could break loose).
In all of this, the pending encyclical by Pope Francis could not be more timely. It is expected to draw a connection between the well-being of the planet and the well-being of people, especially the excluded – the poor, the vulnerable, indigenous peoples, and the unborn. It is expected to have a huge influence all across they world, and not only among Catholics.
Last April, in anticipation of the encyclical, I helped organize an event at the Vatican entitled “Protect the earth, dignify humanity: the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development“. It was co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/ Social Sciences, and the two groups with which I am affiliated – the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (housed at the Earth Institute) and Religions for Peace. It brought together some of the world’s leading climate scientists, development practitioners, and representatives of the world’s major religious traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh). It was opened by Ban Ki Moon, and attended by the presidents of Italy and Ecuador. The end result was a declaration that affirmed the science and also the moral imperative of taking action to reduce carbon emissions.
So that’s kind of what I have been doing!