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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

21st May 2015

Church, government, business: a climate change alliance

His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson addresses “The New Climate Economy” conference. Image credit: Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

This week I attended an important conference at the Pontifical Santa Croce University, on “The New Climate Economy. How Economic Growth and Sustainability Can Go Hand in Hand”. It was jointly organised by the Dutch Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and brought together leading political figures, business people, diplomats and churchmen to address the question of climate change and economic growth ahead of the publication next month of Pope Francis’s much anticipated encyclical on the environment.

Several essential points emerged from the meeting:

–   Climate change is a fact. It is created by global warming. Global warming is a result of human carbon emissions. The former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon (now Chair of the Global Commission on Economy and Climate), set out the issue thus, in stark terms. He was also clear that there was no rational choice between economic growth and tackling climate change; the two can (and should) go hand in hand. As the poor are disproportionately affected, tackling climate change is also a matter of justice. And on that Pope Francis is, in Calderon’s words, “an important ally”.

–   Unilever CEO Paul Polman set out the challenge: a lack of global governance (something the Paris Climate change talks later this year will hopefully start to put right), and real planetary boundaries. Unsustainable development therefore represents both a moral and an existential crisis, for business as much for government. As Holy See Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, put it in his statement to the conference: “When the future of the planet is at stake, there are no political frontiers, barriers or walls behind which we can hide to protect ourselves from the effects of environmental and social degradation. There is no room for the globalisation of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis”.

–   Facing this reality, and the challenge it throws up, is a developing alliance of government, business and civil society including, importantly, the Catholic Church. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, reminded the conference of Pope Benedict’s call in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate for “fraternal and economic development”. “Legitimate economic progress”, Cardinal Wuerl added, “need not be compromised by protecting the environment.”

The reality of climate change is that we’re all in it together. And as the hard-headed business entrepreneurs at the conference explained, inaction will be far more costly than action. Government must set the global governance framework. Business will bring the enterprise and innovation. Religious leaders will argue the moral case, based especially around the need to accept our inter-generational responsibility towards those who follow us. Pope Francis’s encyclical is likely to provoke and challenge. Watch out for it next month!

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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