Washington, DC - Today the President hosted His Holiness Pope Francis at the White House and thanked him for the ways in which he is inspiring people around the world to embrace justice, mercy, and compassion, particularly toward those who have been marginalized.
The President and Pope Francis discussed their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues, including our moral responsibility to provide refuge for people who are forced to flee from their homelands; the belief that we have an obligation to seize the historic opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation; the conviction that all members of the human family have equal value and infinite worth and should have the opportunity to realize safe and productive futures for themselves; the belief that reconciliation can happen not only between people but also between nations; the conviction that we must secure the unalienable right of all people to practice their faith according to the dictates of conscience, standing against those who would target people for violence, persecution, or discrimination based on their religion; and the duty to manage the resources of the earth today in such a way that will allow our children and grandchildren to live their lives abundantly tomorrow.
To mark this historic meeting and advance these shared values and objectives, the President is pursuing the following initiatives:
Solidarity with People in Crisis
The human toll of the world’s humanitarian crises is staggering. Over 100 million people around the world are beset by conflict, food insecurity, and natural disasters. Around the world, the people at greatest risk include religious minorities and people persecuted for their political beliefs. In the Middle East alone, 36.5 million people require humanitarian aid due to the conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. South Sudan and Yemen are on the brink of famine. In an instant 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the Nepal earthquake, and families and communities in West Africa are still recovering from the social and economic impacts of Ebola. We have a collective responsibility not only to help those in need, but to work together to address the root causes of conflict and to ensure that all people have access to economic opportunity. The United States has a long history of assisting people in times of crisis. As the world’s largest humanitarian donor, the U.S. Government has provided over $6.5 billion in life-saving food, healthcare, water, and shelter this year, not including our response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. United Nations (UN) appeals have surpassed $19 billion in 2015, and have received only 40 percent of the required funding to address basic humanitarian needs. The United States urges the international community to contribute more robustly to UN humanitarian appeals and to non-governmental organizations responding to these crises, and work together to coordinate assistance.
- Providing Refuge to the Most Vulnerable: Since its founding, the United States has offered freedom and opportunity to refugees fleeing the world’s most dangerous and desperate situations. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program reflects the core values of the United States and our strong tradition of providing a safe haven for the oppressed. In response to the historic levels of refugee displacement around the world, the United States intends to increase the number of refugees the nation resettles annually, up from the 70,000 level of recent years. In Fiscal Year 2016, the United States aims to admit at least 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. In Fiscal Year 2017, the United States projects further expanding the program to a minimum of 100,000 refugees. In order to broaden access to the program, the United States will also expand the number of processing locations to include Erbil, Iraq, and work to add other locations with high numbers of refugees and other displaced persons.
- Helping Support Syrians: The United States is committed to providing humanitarian relief to those in crisis, including Syrians displaced within their own country, and those sheltering in neighboring countries. As the single largest donor to address the Syrian crisis, we are committed to continuing to provide relief to Syrians, and on September 21 announced an additional $419 million in humanitarian assistance. Since the beginning of the crisis, the United States has provided over $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict. This assistance provides healthcare, food, water, and basic necessities to people suffering in all 14 Governorates of Syria and with nearly $2.3 billion directly supporting Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
- Protecting Minorities in the Middle East: In Iraq and Syria, where ISIL has brutally targeted minority groups in particular, including religious minorities, the United States is leading a global coalition that seeks to degrade, defeat, and ultimately destroy ISIL. Beyond the military campaign, we are working to enable minorities and other displaced individuals to return to their homes in areas reclaimed from ISIL. On September 15, the Department of Defense approved up to $75 million for relief supplies to help address immediate lifesaving needs for displaced Iraqis, including minorities. The Administration has appointed a Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia, who will help ensure that the urgent needs of these communities are taken into consideration in our military and humanitarian planning, and our multi-pronged efforts to assist in the return of these communities to their ancestral homes are implemented as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. The United States is advocating for international stabilization assistance to address the specific needs of minority-populated areas reclaimed from ISIL. We are working to create greater security for minority communities as part of our overall security assistance to the Government of Iraq, and will support the integration of these communities’ self-defense units into the formal national security architecture in cooperation with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. The United States is also designating a Special Coordinator for Iraq’s Minorities, based at U.S. Embassy Baghdad, providing a high-level U.S. advocate for minority communities to support the inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups in formal security structures, post-ISIL reconstruction, and reconciliation programs. The United States, alongside over 50 countries and numerous NGOs, participated in the September 8 Paris Conference on Victims of Religious and Ethnic Violence in the Middle East, which recognized a pressing necessity to protect and preserve those communities and cultures threatened in Iraq and Syria.
- Conference on Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South and Central Asia: The protection of religious minorities is not solely the province of governments. Civil society, including faith-based groups, has an important role to play as well. With this in mind, the Department of State will hold a conference on the Protection of Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South and Central Asia this winter. The conference will bring together civil society and religious leaders with senior government officials to focus on mobilizing additional resources and developing practical steps to protect vulnerable religious communities, both those in areas currently convulsed by war, and those who remain vulnerable in countries still at peace. No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities.
- Promoting International Religious Freedom: Promoting and protecting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. In recognition of the increasingly important role that religion is playing in international affairs, and of the core importance of freedom of religion and conscience as a universal human right, the State Department is expanding training for its diplomats on how to monitor and advocate for religious freedom through both regional and Washington-based training opportunities. Concurrent with the visit of Pope Francis to the White House, the first in a series of regional conferences on religious freedom for diplomatic personnel is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, and additional conferences will be scheduled for other regions over the next couple of years. The State Department is also working to expand content on protecting and promoting religious freedom around the world in training for mid and senior level career diplomats. The United States will continue to stand for the universal right of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom.
- Cooperation with Cuba on Haiti Health Care: Pope Francis was instrumental in encouraging talks that led to the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, and we will continue to seek his support as we proceed with the bilateral relationship. As President Obama said, “The Pope’s moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.” The United States and Cuba share common interests, among them the health and welfare of the people of Haiti. U.S. and Cuban medical professionals collaborated during the USNS Comfort’s stop in Haiti, including working together at a Catholic hospital. As with our previous cooperation on Ebola, this provided a unique opportunity to engage with Cuban medical professionals and to discuss opportunities for future cooperation. This cooperation demonstrates how our continued normalization of relations with Cuba can help us advance our interests in the Americas.
- Helping At-Risk Youth in Central America: Pursuant to a competitive awards process, the Department of Labor is making a $13 million grant to Catholic Relief Services for a project in El Salvador and Honduras providing critical skills to youth at risk of joining gangs so that they can instead join the workforce. The four-year program, called Youth Pathways – Central America, will provide training and employment services to approximately 5,100 low-income individuals ages 14 to 20 who reside in communities with high rates of violence. In addition, nearly 2,000 of the youths’ family members will benefit from training and holistic support services. This award is at the heart of President Obama’s $1 billion request for the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America. This strategy will aim to address the root causes of migration in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and focus on three major pillars: prosperity, governance, and security.
Promoting Sustainable Development
This year marks a pivotal moment for global development. Global leaders will be gathering for three key negotiations - on development finance, a new development agenda, and climate change - which present the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to investing in a better future for the world’s children, and to ensure that all people are free from want and are able to live with dignity.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): World leaders will gather in New York this week to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals – which sets out a vision and shared commitment by 193 countries to pursue a common path to reducing poverty and increasing opportunity over the next 15 years. This Agenda represents an ambitious forward-looking vision to eradicate extreme poverty, expand peace and good governance, combat inequality and discrimination, and raise the living standards of the most vulnerable. It enshrines our moral responsibility to ensure that all people have access to economic opportunity, the tools they need to change their lives, and the dignity that is possible when people can imagine and realize a productive and safe future. The pursuit of these goals could dramatically reduce poverty, and reflects a commitment to live up to the ideals and aspirations of all of our people and is grounded in a commitment to local ownership and shared responsibility.
Ending Extreme Poverty: If we marshal our political will, we have the tools, knowledge, and technologies necessary to end extreme poverty within two decades. There is progress upon which to build; aggregate poverty rates are now falling for every region of the world, and there are 700 million fewer people living in extreme poverty today than in 1990. Nonetheless, the challenge is still enormous, with 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty. But if the international community accelerates progress and achieves critical turnarounds in some of the most challenging environments, we believe that we can reduce that number by one billion by 2030. The development policy of and major development initiatives led by the United States are built on the premise that fighting extreme poverty and fostering sustained and inclusive growth, equal access to opportunity, and open and fair governance are one and the same mission. To further sharpen that mission, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released this week its new Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty that sets forth our definition of extreme poverty; our understanding of what has driven progress; an analysis of pertinent trends and challenges; and a strategic framework for USAID’s ongoing commitment to this mission. Its release takes place at an important historical juncture, when we enjoy a growing bipartisan consensus in the United States on the importance of development, the support and engagement of the American people in support of development, and leadership from civil society, our NGO sector, the faith community, foundations, and the private sector. On September 22, USAID hosted an event with religious leaders and other stakeholders, entitled, Faith Works: Partnering to Advance Peace, Prosperity, and Development Around the World. At the event, senior administration officials and religious and civil society leaders discussed their vision for ending extreme poverty, the importance of the papal visit to this goal, and the role that faith-based, development and humanitarian relief organizations play in advancing peace and prosperity around the world.
Protecting our common home
In Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si, he calls for action at every level to protect our common home: globally through treaties and cooperation among governments; nationally through incentives, legislation, and regulation; and at the local and community levels. As Pope Francis says, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change… I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Later he states, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
President Obama is committed to meeting this challenge by finding viable and just solutions to address the erosion of our planet’s ecology, in particular climate change, in ways that also protect poor and vulnerable populations. The President believes we have a moral obligation to leave future generations a planet that is not polluted or damaged and recently said, “On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us… That’s what we have to convey to our people -- tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.” During President Obama’s first year in office, he made a pledge that by 2020, America would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. To reinforce this commitment, in June 2013, the President launched the Climate Action Plan, which consists of three pillars: cutting carbon pollution in America, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to combat global climate change and mitigate its effects. The President will continue to take steps to put the plan into effect, including by implementing America’s Clean Power Plan, which establishes the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants, the single biggest source of carbon emissions in the United States; increasing access to clean energy for all Americans; achieving an economy-wide target to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025; and by working with leaders throughout the world to reach a durable and ambitious agreement at this year’s climate conference in Paris. In addition, the Administration will pursue a host of other domestic and international efforts to tackle climate change.
As we take steps to address climate change through federal action, the Administration is also working with the growing number of non-governmental leaders and organizations that are promoting climate resiliency at home and abroad. Today, the Administration highlights a few of those collaborative efforts:
Promoting Climate Resiliency Around the World: Today, the Administration is announcing that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will join the Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) initiative as a contributing partner. The CSRD is an international public-private partnership that USAID launched this summer with seven other founding partners: the American Red Cross, Asian Development Bank, Esri, Google, Inter-American Development Bank, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, and the U.K. Government. The vision of the partnership is to identify the most effective means to create and provide, for the public good, climate data that is timely and useful, as well as information tools and services that are driven by needs and demands identified by end-users. This partnership relies upon the strengths and resources of public, private, philanthropic, and non-governmental organizations, multilateral institutions, and academic communities. CRS will capitalize on its extensive partner base, which includes other religious and non-religious organizations and direct links to farmers and extension services, to realize demand-driven climate services that meet adaptation needs and help to bridge gaps between technical climate information and local development challenges. In addition, CRS will leverage their existing climate resources and programs to scale tools and information in support of CSRD’s work. CRS’s multi-stakeholder approach – which unites research, public, private, and non-governmental sectors – will facilitate shared learning and the diversity of perspectives necessary for success in the provision of climate services.
Advancing Climate Justice and Preparedness at Home: An array of federal agencies are taking new steps in partnership with non-governmental organizations, including diverse faith-based and community groups, to promote environmental justice and climate resilience at home. The Climate Action Champions Interagency Working Group (IWG) is developing a webinar and other tools to share information with faith-based and community organizations, particularly in the local and tribal communities that were selected through a competitive process in recognition of their strong commitment to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. Faith-based and community organizations, including Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), a national network serving low income and vulnerable people, plan to work through local affiliates in these communities to use the IWG’s tools to convene conversations about ways to support the goals of the initiative. Also, over the next year, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJIWG) will collaborate with CCUSA and other non-governmental organizations to increase awareness of the impacts of climate change in overburdened and underserved communities, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will work with faith-based and community organizations to make disaster preparedness information more accessible to vulnerable populations and to increase all-hazards preparedness planning for houses of worship.
ENERGY STAR at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with more than 1,500 diverse congregations, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist congregations, and with nonprofits and community groups, to save money and prevent pollution through increased energy and water efficiency. These organizations have committed to protect the environment and enhance their financial health through continuous improvement of energy performance in their respective facilities, and to educate their staff and community to aid in preserving the environment for future generations. EPA has provided dedicated webinars and focused technical support for a wide array of organizations, including GreenFaith, Interfaith Power and Light, Christian Reform Congregations, Seventh Day Adventists, Blessed Tomorrow, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Archdiocese of Chicago. EPA has also worked with the Evangelical Environmental Network and other religious bodies to develop its ENERGY STAR Action Workbook for Congregations. In addition, EPA has collaborated with nonprofit and community groups including Esperanza Capacity Institute, Green for All, ecoAmerica, and the Chicago Salvation Army. EPA’s ENERGY STAR also assisted in planning a 2015 White House Champions of Change event that focused on climate change, where leaders from the Islamic, Evangelical, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, and Baptist traditions were among those recognized for greening their communities and educating others on the moral and social justice implications of climate change. During the past year, ENERGY STAR helped develop the EPA’s new “Food Stewardship Challenge” to help congregations and communities “feed people, not landfills.” This initiative is important for the environment because as wasted food decomposes, it converts to methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will expand Resilience AmeriCorps in collaboration with Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), an existing AmeriCorps VISTA sponsor. The Rockefeller Foundation will provide continued training and technical support, with the expansion also leveraging the expertise of other Federal partners, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. The Resilience AmeriCorps program recruits, trains, and embeds AmeriCorps VISTA members in communities across the country, where the effects of climate change are often most acutely felt, to help communities develop preparedness plans and assist local leaders as they plan for and address the impacts of extreme weather events. CNCS, the federal agency which administers AmeriCorps, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, Cities of Service, NOAA, EPA, and DOE launched Resilience AmeriCorps in July. On August 20, CNCS and its partners announced the selection of ten pilot locations for the first cohort of Resilience AmeriCorps. Through the expansion announced today, AmeriCorps VISTA members will be placed in five to seven additional locations to help communities with significant immigrant and refugee populations become more resilient. These AmeriCorps VISTA members will develop plans to meet the needs of immigrant communities during disasters, including improving language access to necessary services and reducing other barriers to support.