Tomorrow is a day when many people in India and around the world will be thinking about the Earth and our environment.
For many Catholics, people of all faiths and none, April 22 is international Earth Day. It is also the day when heads of state and government representatives gather in New York to renew their vows to the Paris Agreement, which they signed last December as a pledge to end the fossil fuel era.
This should be a day to celebrate the world; however, the current state of our planet means we must rather bemoan its condition and act to rectify them.
Almost a year on from the Pope’s Encyclical, Laudato Si, which I invite everyone to read, how much has the world and India changed? Pope Francis wrote that, due to pollution and climate change, ‘our home is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth’. Step outside in India, and often you will be breathing some of the dirtiest city air on the planet. Talk a walk through our towns and villages, and you will see the foulness of our rivers.
Of course, there are reasons for optimism. The Paris Agreement on climate change has been signed. The government’s ambitious targets for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are noble, and worldwide renewable energy investments are increasing at an astonishing rate. With the cost of solar energy plummeting, the situation can only get better. And Delhi has recently trialed its car pollution-reduction scheme to great success.
This is simply not enough, however. A recent report stated that India has the world’s highest number of people without access to clean water – a staggering 76 million. Droughts are currently crippling several Indian states. Six of the world’s ten worst polluted cities are Indian — their citizens are breathing air that’s up to 15 times dirtier than what is considered healthy. Immorally, it is of course the poor who have contributed least to these problems that are worst impacted. For their sakes, the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, coupled with unabated and unplanned urbanisation, must cease soon as possible. Twenty-one countries have already proven that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping the economy growing — India could be among them, but is not.
That is why, on April 18th, together with over 260 other faith leaders, I signed a declaration calling on heads of state to implement the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, and urging the swift phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies as part of a transition to using 100% renewable energy by 2050. Faith communities are already working hard to alleviate many of the world’s problems, but we can do even more by reducing emissions in homes, workplaces and centres of worship, and to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable sources of energy.
Together, people of all faiths and none, let us therefore strive to make this April 22nd a reminder of how humanity is abusing our planet, a gift from God.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias is Archbishop of Bombay
The views expressed are personal