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Climate crisis, displacement and solidarity

  • 13 April 2021
  On 30 March, the Holy See engaged with an important aspect of displacement with the publication of its ‘Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People’. The document, approved by Pope Francis, was produced by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a Vatican department established by Francis that works on both migration and environmental matters.

The intersection between climate change and human displacement is a still emerging area of concern. Nevertheless, we know that climate change is already a factor in various forms of human mobility, ranging from relatively voluntary migration to compulsory resettlement to temporary or permanent displacement, either internal or international.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group 2 noted that climate change affects human mobility through a range of slow and rapid onset impacts, including floods, droughts and sea-level rise. The Asia-Pacific is forecast to be especially hard hit, due to its large population and prevalence of disasters. In 2019, the countries that suffered the greatest displacement due to disasters were all in Asia (India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and China).

In recent years, international organisations have urged more focus on this growing challenge. The World Bank recently highlighted an ‘urgent need for countries to integrate climate migration into national development plans’, while the Asian Development Bank warned that ‘policy responses and normative frameworks that address climate-induced migration remain scattered and highly inadequate’. 

‘Pastoral Orientations’ addresses the difficulties faced by climate displaced people (CDP) by focusing on ten challenges and associated responses suggested for the Catholic Church. The intended audience includes Bishops’ Conferences, local churches, Catholic organisations and laypeople who may be involved in ‘effective assistance’ for CDP. The purpose of the document is practical, to set out ‘markers for a roadmap in pastoral planning for CDP’, and specific actions are suggested to this effect. 

The ten challenges begin with vision: not in the sense of foresight, but rather the act of seeing and acknowledging. Too often displaced persons have been out of sight, out of mind, while the climate crisis remains ignored in too many quarters. As Pope Francis paraphrases Hamlet in the preface, ‘To see or not to see, that is the question!’ The document opens with a call for acknowledging climate displacement and for promoting awareness and outreach.

Next, the document addresses pastoral care at different stages of displacement: providing viable alternatives to displacement (where possible), preparing people for displacement, fostering inclusion and integration in the place of immigration and