VATICAN CITY – The Catholic Church can do more to protect the environment and put pressure on industrialized countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions, said Africa’s first female Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 peace prize, urged hundreds of Caritas Internationalis delegates meeting in the Vatican to make environmental sustainability a priority.
She said she hoped her appeal would be “a turning point for Caritas Internationalis and indeed the church to decide to lead the faithful in being the custodians of God’s creation.”
“Planting trees, protecting and conserving forests, slowing down desertification processes are some of the activities Caritas could (do to) greatly enhance our capacity to reduce misery,” she said.
“Taking care of the environment can eventually address many of the other” Millennium Development Goals, which include cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015, she said.
Ms. Maathai was one of the keynote speakers addressing Vatican officials and hundreds of Caritas delegates gathered June 3-9 for the 18th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis.
Both Caritas and the church are “in a very strong position to educate (Group of Eight) leaders and to hold them to accountability so it is not just talking, but it is a commitment” to improve environmental policies and cut emissions of gases widely thought to contribute to global warming, she said June 4.
Leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations were to meet June 6-8 in Heiligendamm, Germany.
She said G-8 leaders must realize they have “a moral responsibility to reduce emissions” since their countries are major producers of greenhouse gases and “encourage their citizens to change their lifestyles,” which are heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels.
While the church can play a crucial role in advocacy on the international level, each individual parish and local Caritas can also do more to protect the environment, she said.
The church “could promote tree planting at the parish level with the faithful, and this is doable throughout the world,” she said.
She said the church also could help protect forests, especially those in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia that are in danger of disappearing due to unsustainable logging and desertification.
Founded in Kenya, the Green Belt Movement supplies rural African women with the resources to plant trees in their area and fight deforestation and desertification. The movement has spread to other countries and claims to have planted 30 million trees since its establishment in 1977.
Ms. Maathai said women play a crucial role in turning environmental awareness into action.
Women in industrialized and developing countries are “central to the consumer economy” and are the “major consumers of energy at the household level,” therefore, they can have a hand in cutting back on daily electricity and fuel use.
They also “give many of us our values and can help us change our values” to those that respect the environment, reduce waste and live life in moderation, she said.