Climate activist, once a negotiator, lobbies for change in Paris

Categories: Nation/World

Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron of the Philippines, right, speaks with fellow climate activist Clemente Bautista on a Paris street Dec. 9. Nera-Lauron has been attending the U.N. climate change summit, advocating for climate justice for developing countries. (CNS photo/James Martone) See UN-CLIMATE-ACTIVIST Dec. 11, 2015.

Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron of the Philippines, right, speaks with fellow climate activist Clemente Bautista on a Paris street Dec. 9. Nera-Lauron has been attending the U.N. climate change summit, advocating for climate justice for developing countries. (CNS photo/James Martone)

PARIS (CNS) — She’s been sidelined and downgraded, but climate activist Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron has refused to be silenced. The stakes, she said, are just too high.

“I am in Paris because I know it is a very important moment in the world’s history … for humanity itself,” Nera-Lauron said near the French capital’s Place de la Republique.

She had just addressed a group of climate activists at a Paris syndicate on the need to form bigger, international alliances to combat global warming, and she was about to board the metro back to the U.N. climate change conference, nearing its culmination in the suburb of Le Bourget.

Nera-Lauron said since the conference’s start Nov 30, she’d been busy calling on the different delegates from 195 nations not to “negotiate away” the future of developing countries like her own, the Philippines.

“Cut down on your pollution, cut down on your production systems,” she said were the biggest messages she had been conveying to the conference’s richer, more developed countries.

Those nations “have to provide financing, for (poorer) countries to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change and to enable them to transition to a low-carbon pathway,” she continued, touching on her specialty, climate financing, which has also been one of the major stumbling blocks at the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 conference.

In addition to how much poorer nations should be compensated for damage already incurred due to climate change — and for their eventual adopting of cleaner, more expensive sources of energy — the tricky question of limiting world temperatures in the near future was dividing delegations at the summit, Nera-Lauron reported.

“At the moment, the main discussions are centered around 2 degrees, but we should really aim for much lower than 2 degrees,” she insisted.

Initially a part of the Philippines’ official negotiators to other U.N. climate conferences, Nera-Lauron was later “dropped from the delegation” for being from among her country’s “more progressives of civil society.” She said, with a laugh, that she had since “reverted to an observer” status.

But the change has not deterred her from engaging with negotiators at this U.N. conference, even if doing so was a bit more difficult, she told Catholic News Service Dec. 9.

“If we get lucky … we are given two minutes to make an intervention,” referring to herself and others with official observer status to the U.N. conference site, which she described as “one big marketplace.”

“The U.N. space has a number of halls, spaces for exhibits and observers, (and) spaces for plenary sessions,” said Nera-Lauron, explaining where she had tried to sway some negotiators.

“We have a booth in the exhibit hall to show our publications, because we do have research and analysis on certain issues that are being talked about in the negotiations, like climate finance and climate adaptation,” said Nera-Lauron, who serves as a climate justice program manager for an international advocacy organization in the Philippines.

She said a lot of the literature she and other activists were presenting at the summit was about small grass-roots organizations around the world that were already dealing with climate change successfully, and that could be looked upon as good examples of how to deal positively with problems of the changing climate.

“It’s showing that there are solutions already taking place, and these solutions are being practiced by people themselves … it is not just about criticizing,” she said.

And on an increasingly personal level, it was also about faith, Nera-Lauron added.

“The Philippines is Catholic and I am Catholic,” she said, pointing to the church’s “powerful” position on social issues affecting the poor, including climate change.

“‘Laudato Si” serves as an inspiration,” she said of Pope Francis’ June 2015 encyclical calling for a change of heart to save the planet from environmental doom.

“For me, Pope Francis is a rock star,” she added.