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UN Climate Change Summit: Catholic Charities of New York and Global Climate Migration

By Jim Sliney Jr

281,000 hectares of land. That’s almost 1,100 square miles. That’s also the amount of land that draught has made unusable in the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras --  according NBC News and the UN World Food Program. Such impacts to the climate result in starvation, food insecurity and a drive to relocate to more prosperous lands, like the United States.

We recently told you a bit about the state of hunger and food insecurity in New York, but as a point of contrast, in the northern region of Central America, over 2 million people lack adequate food. The World Food Program USA reported that dry spells have ruined corn and bean crops in the “dry corridor” of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua). This has led 82 percent of families there to sell off farming supplies and livestock just to afford food. Emigration from that area increased 500% between 2010 and 2015.

This phenomenon, where families are emigrating away from their homelands because of either slow or fast climate changes is called “Climate Migration.” The World Bank predicts that by 2050, without radical action, there will be more than 17 million people migrating from Latin America alone. This does not consider political or security causes, but rather this will be caused by decreased agriculture, water shortages, and rising sea levels.

CATHOLICS AND THE CLIMATE CRISIS

In 2015, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter, “On Care for Our Common Home,” Laudato Si for short. In the letter he said, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.”

In keeping with the importance of this theme, many thousands of Catholics joined in the September 20th climate strikes led by 16-year old Greta Thunberg. Also, Catholic Charities USA is a member organization of the Global Catholic Climate Movement which takes its mission and core values from the Pope’s Ladauto Si - “Hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” – and partake in numerous programs to reduce the impact of climate change.

HOW IS CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF NEW YORK PARTICIPATING?

Catholic Charities of New York is acutely aware of the impact of climate change. In 2017 when hurricanes Maria and Irma caused devastation throughout Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Catholic Charities stepped up to help. CCNY collected and distributed funds and services to help those who fled those areas to come to New York. It launched a Disaster Case Management Program to work with federal, state, and local agencies to provide disaster relief.

Climate migration impacts New York significantly. New York City is one of the three largest urban-destinations for immigrants and refugees, along with Miami and Los Angeles. So, CCNY has a lot of experience with immigrants and refugees.

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of New York has spoken openly about the importance of compassion towards immigrants. “Our Catholic values support secure borders, curtailing illegal immigration, and a fair and generous legal immigration system, (but) our laws and policies must be balanced and fair, reflecting the aspirations of a just and compassionate society that upholds the dignity of each person.”

Catholic Charities of New York works with these ‘climate refugees’ to feed, house, clothe, educate, and offer stability and security to those displaced from their home countries. As society better understands the needs of the poor, of refugees and immigrants, Catholic Charities will be there with love and compassion to help the world change.