November 30, 2015, Paris, France – A delegation of four U.S. Dominican Sisters – including Adrian Dominican Sisters Patricia Siemen, OP, and Elise D. García, OP – are in Paris, representing approximately 4,000 to 5,000 US Dominican Sisters, to urge adoption of a legally binding agreement to address climate change at the 21st gathering of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change.
Also in the delegation, commissioned by the US Dominican Sisters Conference, are Amityville Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, OP, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Dominican Representative to the United Nations, and Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, Executive Director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment.
The four Sisters join Dominicans from other parts of the world, as well as religious from other congregations and thousands of men and women from around the globe who have gathered to make the voice of the people heard on climate justice. Pope Francis recently highlighted what’s at stake, saying it would be “catastrophic” if the international community failed to reach an agreement.
Hundreds of “side events” are being held around Paris by non-governmental organizations focused on presenting real climate solutions that would result in the “transformational” change that Pope Francis says is needed. One of these events, the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, will showcase a model for adjudicating cases under a legal framework that recognizes the rights of nature, offering a real and present solution to the root problem behind climate change and other human-induced ecological disasters. Under current law, nature is treated as private property to be destroyed for profit. It is a legal framework that is proving deadly to people and planet, requiring a transformation of our international and domestic legal systems toward a jurisprudence that recognizes rights of nature.
Sister Pat Siemen, JD, founding director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence of Barry University School of Law, is one of the planners of the Tribunal, which the Dominican Sisters will be attending on December 4 and 5, at the Maison des Métallos in Paris.
Sister Elise, Director of Communications for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, will be writing stories about the Tribunal and other side events that she and the Sisters will be attending for the Global Sisters Report, the National Catholic Reporter’s online series of articles on the work of Catholic women religious. Read Sister Elise's first article.
To stay updated on the Tribunal and other events in Paris during COP21, you may also follow the Sisters on Twitter – Sister Pat: @EarthJurist or @EarthNun and Sister Elise: @elisegarciaop.
Feature photo: Sister Pat Siemen, Amityville Dominican Sister Margaret Mayce, and Sister Elise Garcia at the Place de la Nation prior to a "human chain" event calling peacefully on COP21 leaders to "hear us" on climate justice.
October 26, 2015, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and interested local community members gathered October 15 at Weber Retreat and Conference Center to explore issues of concern for Earth and the creatures who inhabit her. The free program was offered by the Congregation’s Office of Global Mission, Justice and Peace, directed by Sister Kathy Nolan, OP.
After a welcome by Sister Kathy and contemplative prayer led by Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, focused the morning on exploring Laudate Sí, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change and care for Earth. Sister Pat, founder of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, walked participants through a “roadmap” of the encyclical: its various themes and its hopeful message. Sister Pat repeated this presentation on October 17 for the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Watch her presentation, recorded and posted on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ website.
Sister Pat returned in the afternoon to speak about the United Nations Climate Summit, planned for November 30 through December 11, 2015, in Paris. This is the 21st UN gathering on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented.
“The ultimate objective of the climate summit is really to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations or emissions internationally,” Sister Pat explained. The purpose is “to limit global temperature increase above the pre-industrial levels by no more than 2 degrees Celcius” – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. “Scientists today are saying that [we can afford] an increase of no more than 1.5 degrees.
Sister Elise García, OP, spoke of the urgency of the issue, of the great need for the negotiators from the 195 member nations to succeed in bringing about a binding agreement. She noted that global temperature has already increased by nearly 1 degree. “That’s why it’s so critical now that we really stop the path that we’re on in order to make sure that we don’t hit the tipping point.”
The 2015 UN gathering is the 21st to focus on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented. “Let’s hope that this time the countries around the world really are able to accomplish this.”
At the same time as the UN Conference – at which about 15,000 official representatives are expected to gather – members of the Civil Society Sector will gather, representing a variety of activist groups concerned about the environment and its impact on low-income people. Sisters Pat and Elise will attend events at the Civil Society Sector. Sister Pat will preside at a special tribunal, the Third International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.
“We’re trying to plant the seeds for a legal system that’s going to protect not only human rights but sees human rights as a part of the larger rights of nature, and that nature itself – our rivers and our mountains and our other brothers and sisters in beings – have intrinsic rights to exist and flourish,” Sister Pat explained.
The tribunal called by the Global Alliance – modeled on the concept of the war crimes tribunals that were held after World War II – will present a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to show corporations or other organizations have violated the rights of aspects of nature such as eco-systems. “We don’t have any judicial body to take this to, even if there are violations,” Sister Pat explained. “We are trying to model what we think a world tribunal on climate justice should look like.”
The first international tribunal, held in Ecuador in January 2014, looked at the evidence of eight cases of environmental rights violations, including the endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef.
Sister Elise, who covered the first tribunal for the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report, will again be covering the tribunal and other events in Paris for the Global Sisters Report. “The reason I’m going is to try to bring some press and publicity to what’s happening in the civil side of the Paris talks,” Sister Elise explained.
Rounding out the afternoon events were three brief reports on different ways that care for Earth is addressed at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse.
- Sister Carol Coston, OP, spoke of the work of the Permaculture Office, which is finding ways for the Motherhouse grounds to be more sustainable.
- Father James Hug, SJ, sacramental minister at the Motherhouse, spoke of a letter from Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world, promising their support for the Pope’s environmental efforts, as described in Laudate Si.
- Lura Mack, Executive Director of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) spoke of ways that the PAB is supporting the Congregation’s sustainability efforts through its work in corporate responsibility and through making low-income loans to organizations such as the Solar Energy Loan Fund in Fort Pierce, Florida.
The Day of Education ended in prayer, with a special Mass at which Father Jim presided.