By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – A U.S. bishop and the head of Catholic Relief Services called on Congress to ensure “the poorest people and countries on earth” have adequate financial assistance to help them adapt to the effects of climate change.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Ken Hackett, CRS president, made the comment in a June 22 letter to Congress on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A copy of the letter was released June 25, the day before the House approved national climate change legislation called the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Bishop Hubbard and Hackett said in general they were encouraged by the measure’s provisions aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad in the latest climate change legislation.

“However, we are deeply disappointed that the funding resources committed to international adaptation fall fundamentally short of what is needed initially and that additional increases in resources are pushed too far off into the future,” they said.

“Congress cannot leave the most vulnerable people without adequate help needed to protect their lives and dignity,” they said, calling it “a matter of moral priority and policy.”

“Addressing global climate change is both urgent and necessary,” said Bishop Hubbard and Hackett. “House consideration of this groundbreaking legislation begins a serious and overdue effort to face up to moral and environmental challenges and represents an important beginning.”

The bill aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent by the year 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050. It aims to replace fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, with greener alternatives by requiring that 20 years from now, 20 percent of the energy supplied by electric utilities come from renewable sources and more energy-efficient measures.

Critics of the measure say it will raise costs for consumers because they will see their utility bills go up.

Bishop Hubbard and Hackett said they were “generally supportive” of provisions in the legislation “that help ensure that low-income inspaniduals and families in the U.S. are not disproportionately affected by any potential rise in energy prices resulting from the legislation.”

They also said they support efforts to encourage nonprofit, community and faith-based institutions, including houses of worship – “many of whom provide essential assistance to the poor” – to become more energy efficient.

However, “as the legislation moves forward both in the House and in the Senate,” they said, the “amount allocated to international adaptation” should be “increased significantly at the outset and at a faster pace over time.”

They noted that CRS, the U.S. bishops overseas relief and development agency, is “already experiencing the tragic consequences of climate change in the lives of people living in poverty” in the more than 100 countries where the agency works.

Catholics and members of many other faiths “are called to care for creation and for ‘the least of these,'” Bishop Hubbard and Hackett said. “A fundamental moral measure of climate change legislation is how it affects the poor in our own country and around the world.”

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the bill in the fall.