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Leader of 1.2 Billion Catholics Warns of Dangers of Stalled Climate Action

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, released an updated commentary on climate change. As Mongabay reported last week, some observers credit his lengthier 2015 letter Laudato Si with providing much of the basis for the 2015 Paris Agreement. The BBC and Washington Post reported at the time that he even coaxed reticent countries into accepting the deal.

In the document Francis criticized those who sought to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that humans are the drivers of today’s rise in global temperatures. Traditionally such dissenting research (some receiving significant funding from the fossil fuel industry) has focused on the oscillation of natural occurring variables such as solar radiation.

“They bring up allegedly solid scientific data, like the fact that the planet has always had, and will have, periods of cooling and warming. They forget to mention another relevant datum: that what we are presently experiencing is an unusual acceleration of warming, at such a speed that it will take only one generation – not centuries or millennia – in order to verify it.”

He further clarified that “[e]vents of natural origin that usually cause warming, such as volcanic eruptions and others, are insufficient to explain the proportion and speed of the changes of recent decades.”

The letter also called attention to the continued increasing emissions. He noted that the planet could reach the Paris Agreement’s recommended ceiling in only ten years. This meant that “our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.” This could prove catastrophic in areas such as “healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, [and] forced migrations.” He said that a just transition should not only focus on the jobs lost in the transition from fossil fuels, but should also weigh losses already occurring because of “rising sea levels, droughts and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift.”

In possibly the most forceful part of the document, he criticized the international framework his 2015 letter helped create. While the agreement proved to be a “another significant moment” in establishing a non-binding and flexible consensus, “proposals tending to ensure a rapid and effective transition to alternative and less polluting forms of energy made no progress” at conferences which sought to monitor countries’ international commitments. International conflicts have also contributed to the delay in effective responses.

He urged delegates at November’s COP28 to look toward their legacies and not simply their pocketbooks:

"May those taking part in the Conference be strategists capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses. In this way, may they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame. To the powerful, I can only repeat this question: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power, only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

In a nod toward those who show skepticism of top-down climate solutions, he noted multilateralism did not mean “a world authority concentrated in one person or in an elite with excessive power.” Non-state civil society actors are “capable of creating effective dynamics that the United Nations cannot.” Therefore, he emphasized that different social actors have different roles to play in scaling solutions to fit local needs.

The Vatican itself has struggled to move rapidly with Francis alluding to internal disagreement about how fast to transition to low-carbon solutions. It did not accede to the Paris Agreement and determine targets until 2022.

We will leave others to evaluate the veracity and effectiveness of Francis’ critiques of the international community’s response to climate change. We agree that the best solutions tailor to each organization’s needs.

At Responsible Alpha, we love working with individual clients eager to customize their journey to a low-carbon future.


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