Pope Francis declares climate emergency

June 25, 2019

In a meeting with fossil fuel CEOs and major institutional investors, Pope Francis issued a stern warning: “Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.”

In his first explicit call to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the pope cited a recent UN report that predicts dire consequences should the world fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next 11 years. “That Report clearly warns that effects on the climate will be catastrophic if we cross the threshold of 1.5°C outlined in the Paris Agreement goal,” he said.

The pope also voiced concerns that fossil fuel companies continue to operate as usual, despite claims to the contrary: “In our meeting last year, I expressed the concern that ‘civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization.’ Today a radical energy transition is needed to save our common home.”

As the pontiff spoke, students from Fridays For Future Rome protested outside the Vatican and demanded that oil CEO’s “listen to the pope.” In recognizing the vital role of youth climate activists, the pope said “Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility. Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for change.”

Since last year’s gathering of fossil fuel CEOs, ExxonMobil has announced plans to increase its fossil fuel production by 25% while also claiming to “safely and responsibly” address climate change. ExxonMobil’s approach reflects trends across the industry, as industry analysts predict that 1 million kilometers of new oil and gas wells will be drilled over the next five years.

In contrast, global climate strikes and grassroots movements for action on climate change–including these by young Catholics– have mobilized millions. Governments are increasingly responsive, the most recent being legislation by the UK to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Meanwhile, nearly 140 Catholic groups have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies. These include Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-related development agency; a wide variety of bishops’ conferences, archdioceses, and dioceses; Catholic banks with more than €7.5B on their balance sheets; and many more.

“The Holy Father makes it clear that those who most deserve climate justice are those who are the least responsible for fossil fuel emissions: the women and men who live in the least-developed countries,” said Mary Robinson, Ireland’s former president and former UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, during the Vatican meeting. “What could be more opportunistic and cynical than still seeking to exploit and extract fossil fuel reserves from under the ground . . . ?”