Acton Institute Powerblog

G8 Bishops Statement

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In preparation for the G8 summit in Japan in July, the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the respective G8 nations have collaborated and released a joint statement to their political leaders. I mean to diminish neither the importance of the topics addressed nor the respect due to the bishops’ teaching by saying that such statements are usually rather bland and predictable. This one, however, contains some interesting language concerning, in particular, global warming. “We urge you,” the bishops exhort, “to deepen your commitments and actions to reduce global poverty and address global climate change.”

And later, this:

The costs of initiatives to prevent and adapt to the harmful consequences of climate change should be borne more by richer persons and nations who have benefited most from the emissions that have fueled development and should not unduly burden the poor.

At the risk of reading too much into this language (one must assume, after all, that it was carefully chosen), consider the terminology: “reduce” poverty, “address” climate change. Not “stop” climate change, or even “reduce” it, but “address” it. Combine that formulation with the later passage concerning the consequences of climate change for the poor. Admittedly, this could be read in several ways, but one possible way to read it is this: If rich nations are going to take measures to address climate change that have economic costs, rich nations need to bear those costs, not impose them on other nations.

In sum, although the statement devotes much space to the issue of climate change—which is comprehensible in light of its importance as a topic for the G8—the emphasis is almost exlusively on climate change’s impact on the poor, including the impact on the poor of efforts to stem climate change. In light of the ongoing debate about what the effects of climate change will be (good or bad) as well as whether human action can significantly influence it one way or the other, this seems to me exactly the right approach to take.

It has also to be noted, however, that the bishops continue to press for increased foreign aid to developed nations. Made in the context of the G8, one must assume this means government aid. It is too bad that they do not display some awareness of the increasing evidence that government aid has been largely ineffective (arguably, counterproductive) in this cause. To their credit, they do stress that “the poor must be empowered to be drivers of their own development.” Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they also said something along these lines?:
“We urge the governments of the wealthy nations to promote the development of poorer nations by taking the following measures: 1) refuse to dispense aid to or through any government or agency that has a record of corruption; 2) foster the activity of private foreign aid agencies through deregulation and tax benefits; 3) abolish tariffs on foreign goods and subsidies to domestic production.”

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of CatholicHistory.net.

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