Mexican Catholic officials acknowledge not being experts in the subject of climate change, which some scientists predict will impact Mexico by taxing scant water resources, producing more intense storms and forcing even more outward migration from parched rural areas.

They insist, however, that the church has a role to play by reducing its own potentially polluting practices and educating the faithful and public at large and helping those who might be negatively affected by a changing climate.

The Mexican bishops’ social ministry secretariat met for five days in mid-August to learn more on the subject from scholars, government experts and other concerned Catholics as the Mexican church formulates its position for the U.N. Climate Change Conference Nov. 29-Dec. 10 in Cancun, Mexico.

“This issue we’re addressing at the conference is a subject of enormous worry for the Catholic Church,” said an Aug. 11 statement from the social secretariat.

The climate change issue ranks high for the bishops’ conference and is listed as one of four key areas of attention — along with promoting peace and reconciliation, promoting democracy and serving the poor — for the social ministry secretariat over the next two years.

Some in the church acknowledge the subject has not been considered a pressing issue, however.

“”This is an issue that will be important for us over the medium term,” said Alejandro de Hoyos, director of Caritas Quintana Roo, which serves Cancun and the Mayan Riviera, an area he expects “will be increasingly affected (by climate change) in the future.”

The conference followed the release of a study by researchers at Princeton University predicting a changing climate would force up to 6.7 million Mexicans from rural areas to abandon the land and leave the country over the next 70 years. The study’s authors based their findings on climate statistics and migration patterns from 1995 to 2005.

Studies presented at the conference showed other worrisome trends. For example, Luis Munozcano, director for monitoring climate change at Mexico’s Agriculture Secretariat, showed figures in his presentation that more Category 5 hurricanes — 18 — battered Mexico over the past 10 years than were registered 1970-2000.

Another study presented by Lourdes Romo Aguilar of the College of the Northern Border in Tijuana predicted climate change would aggravate existing problems of flooding and disasters in four northern cities, wiping out poor neighborhoods built in an irregular fashion.

One prominent Mexican scientist who did not appear at the conference has expressed some skepticism, however. Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera of the geophysics department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico said in a February report that the country was about to enter a “mini-Ice Age” due to a “reduction in solar activity.”

Other environmental and development factors not linked to climate change vex Mexico, too, such as rampant deforestation and the overexploitation of aquifers.

The organizers of the church conference expressed no doubts of the science of climate change, however, predicting it would provoke long-term problems in Mexico. Inaction, they added, is not an option.

“It is necessary to act now. In facing this problem, we can’t and we won’t remain with our arms crossed believing that nothing is going to happen,” they said in the Aug. 11 statement, obtained by Catholic News Service.