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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

19th January 2016

Life Chances: Laudato Si’ half a year on

Laudato Si climate conference

Pope Francis’s encyclical letter Laudato Si’  – On Care for our Common Home was released to the public seven months ago. A lot has happened in the interim. Most important was an ambitious new global climate agreement secured in Paris in December, welcomed and pushed for by the British government, at which 180 countries representing 95% of global emissions committed to reduce their national emissions. Without doubt, the Pope’s encyclical helped to set the stage for that agreement, inspiring action through its clarion call for urgent global solutions.

I attended an event this week at the Pontfical Antonianum University – the academic home in Rome of the Franciscans – dedicated to Lauadato Si’. This was an appropriate venue, as the influence of St Francis of Assisi soaks through every pore of the encyclical, from the opening invocation of his Canticle of the Creatures to the final prayer. Speakers at the event reminded us of the practical moral aspect of Pope Francis’s call for action. He does not ask, ‘what should governments do?’ Instead, he asks, ‘what can we all, as individuals, do?’ At base is the Pope’s recognition that, firstly, human action has had an impact on global warming and damage to the planet, and, secondly, that we are all in it together. Both insights require each of us to take responsibility. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in December 2015 that “climate change is a moral issue that requires a respectful dialogue with all parts of society”.

It’s not easy. The US ambassador to the Holy See told the Antonianum gathering that meeting our commitments requires us “to break old habits”. Part of that is understanding the Pope’s intuition that we cannot tackle the impacts of climate change without recognising the interconnections between environmental damage to the planet, poverty, marginalisation and insecurity. Laudato Si’ was an urgent call ahead of COP21. But it was also looking at the longer term, and the broader condition of society.

The Prime Minister’s speech on 11 January about life chances for the poorest in the community is a good example of the interconnectedness of the challenge. Security, poverty, education, the economy and housing policy are all linked. They are all crucial elements in the health of our environment and our society. The Pope writes in the section of  Laudato Si’ dedicated to the ecology of daily life that: “Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life”. The British government’s Life Chances Strategy is designed to do just that, helping the very poorest and most vulnerable in our community. That, too, is part of the Pope’s Laudato Si’ vision, and I recommend reading it again for that wider message, away from the context of the frenetic months leading up to COP21.

2 comments on “Life Chances: Laudato Si’ half a year on

  1. Dear Ambassador Baker,
    Thank you for your substantive reflection on the challenge put forth by Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si’. As you indicated, it is a matter of change at all levels, beginning with the individual and continuing along the continuum to the highest levels of government. All are responsible, and are challenged to change and to seek the common good for all others and for the sake of the planet. Steven Hawking just this week raised serious concerns about life expectancy for humanity on this planet beyond the coming 100 years. Great pause for reflection and a clarion call for collective action. St. Francis of Assisi serves as a model for how change might occur, beginning with the transformation of the quality of human life, guaranteeing a respectful and humane existence for each and every person, limiting excesses by a select few, and extending this care to the poor, and from the poor to all of creation. Pope Francis reminds us not only of our responsibility to respond with an entirely new way of living; he also reminds us that this is within our grasp, something we can choose to do now. May all of us commit to this great and noble cause, for the sake of the poor and for the sake of the planet.

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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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