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November 10, 2016

Responding To: The Global Challenge of Climate-Induced Migration

Let’s Be Our Brother’s Keeper in Our Common Home

François Pazisnewende Kaboré

The former president of Kiribati’s powerful remarks remind me of another deep and engaging speech, by Pope Francis, which occurred three months earlier in Ecuador (July 2016). In the following lines, I intend to show that both of these speeches call us to two important and intertwined commitments: (i) A collective care for our common home and (ii) the need to be our brother’s keeper.

Collective care for our common home: What can the world learn from Kiribati, one of the smallest and least populated countries in the world? Kiribati has courageously decided to close 11 percent of its exclusive economic zone, the Phoenix Island Protected Area, from all forms of economic fishing activities. According to the former president, “It is crucial to make sacrifices today to ensure a safe and secure future for our children, our grandchildren, and their children.”

This difficult decision matters not only to Kiribati but also to the whole world, now and for generations to come. The example of Kiribati testifies that caring for the earth and the environment, in order to preserve the common good, requires everyone to contribute and that every single country can make a difference.

To be our brother’s keeper: In his speech to the thousands gathered for mass in Ecuador, Pope Francis challenged Ecuadorian educators to promote inclusive education that opens students’ eyes to their social environments. In particular he wondered, “again and again we sense the urgency of the question which God put to Cain, ‘Where is your brother?’ But I wonder if our answer continues to be: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Pope Francis’ plea that everyone become his or her brother’s keeper means that there is a requirement for everyone to take responsibility with respect to the lives of our fellow humans. When faced with a global phenomenon, like climate change, it is very easy to accuse particular countries for their major contributions to the problem. Instead of just adopting the position of a victim, Kiribati took responsibility to face climate change, by making difficult decisions, which will not benefit it in the short term, but could help mitigate the negative consequences of climate change for everyone in the long term.

Consequently, in the end, taking care of our common home and being your brother’s keeper complement and reinforce each other. The former, entails a care for the environment and for the earth. The latter is a cry from our humanity to recognize humanity in all of us. The COP 22 is currently taking place in Morocco. If both the polluters and those most affected by pollution realize that this is about their common home, then the real challenge will be less about finding culprits, and more about finding collective solutions and becoming our brother’s keeper in our common home.

François Pazisnewende Kaboré, S.J. is a Jesuit priest from Burkina Faso and is the director of the Jesuit University Institute in Abidjan Côte d'Ivoire.

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