Pope: end fossil fuels to tackle climate change and fight poverty


Pope Francis today released his long awaited Encyclical on the environment, called “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home”. It’s an open letter to shape Catholic teaching globally about humanity’s universal responsibility to “care for our common home” and tackle the root causes of the greatest interlinked challenges of our time: climate change and poverty. The Encyclical builds on Francis’ previous statements on the “clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act” in order to protect the environment. It has been widely welcomed by voices from across the political spectrum and all sectors. His Holiness joins scientists, business leaders, economists, investors, doctors, trade unions, youth, and other moral and spiritual leaders around the world who are all calling for a transition from dirty fossil fuels to a future powered by clean renewables, making the moral case for climate action as definitive and unassailable as the 97 per cent scientific consensus. The Encyclical acknowledges the robust science and is expected to influence global politics, but it is not a scientific or a political document. It is a profound moral call on humanity to reject ‘capitalism at all cost’ in favour of love and care for our environment and the world’s poor. Sensing an unwinnable debate, those with political and ideological motives or vested interests opposed to the Pope’s message have already attacked in defense, using lines from the coal industry’s PR book to claim poverty eradication requires fossil fuels. But the moral case the Encyclical makes is too holistic and formidable, with pundits and experts already hailing it as a driver of unprecedented momentum for global change well before its release. At a time when investors are increasingly abandoning fossil fuels, and the clean energy transition is happening faster than anyone imagined, the Pope’s intervention today is another strong signal that the world is coming to terms with the challenges we face and with the need to act. This bodes well for negotiations towards a new global climate agreement which governments are due to deliver in Paris this December.


‏MT @Pontifex I invite all to pause & think about the challenges we face regarding care for our common home #LaudatoSi http://bit.ly/1Gi1BTu

MT @CathClimateMvmt Thanks @Pontifex for profound moral call for love & care for planet&people! #Popeforplanet Act http://bit.ly/1JLAXpP

Key Points

  • Pope Francis’ Encyclical is a definitive moral case for action on climate change. It is a teaching document that acknowledges, and stands in solidarity with the overwhelming scientific consensus, and vocalises what all know to be true: fossil fuels and unchecked exploitation of the natural world are irreversibly damaging our common home. Taking action on climate change and empowering poor countries to develop sustainably is both morally and economically right.
  • The Pope’s Encyclical calls for an urgent moral response to a reality established by robust scientific evidence. It does not speculate on the causes of climate change itself. Pope Francis is doing his job as a moral leader, calling for the protection of vulnerable people and proper stewardship of “our common home”, the earth. He appropriately labels acts risking the integrity of our planet as “sins”, provides the environmental movement with a boost of moral support, and condemns indifference, denialism and obstructionism.
  • His Holiness is calling for all of us, not just Catholics, to care for people and the planet. The encyclical on ecology draws from the deep well of Church teaching on these issues to lay out the moral imperative of tackling the root causes of the greatest interlinked challenges of our time: climate change and poverty. The Pope is adding his voice to a global choir of leaders from all walks of life who are demanding action, calling for an end of fossil fuels, a future powered by 100 per cent renewables, and a strong climate deal in Paris.


Excerpts from the Encyclical:

Page 4 Section 8 – Protecting nature, quoting Patriarch Bartholomew

“For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.

Page 7 Section 14 – Addressing challenges

The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.

Page 11 Section 23 Climate as a Common Good, fossil fuels and Science

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.

Page 11 Section 24 Climate Trends, Sea Level and urgency

If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.

Page 12 Section 25 Global challenge, hits poor disproportionately

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. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.

Page 13 section 28 – Water, drought and Africa

Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term. Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of shortage, and at critical moments these have not always been administered with sufficient oversight and impartiality. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production. Some countries have areas rich in water while others endure drastic scarcity.

Page 14 Section 31 Water scarcity and businesses exploiting it

Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.

Page 20 Section 50 Population growth

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.

Page 28 Section 67 The Church has made mistakes, but that’s no reason not to do the right thing

Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15).

Page 46 Section 109 Capitalism at all costs has costs

The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration.

Page 49 Section 114 Directing technology does not mean a return to the stone age

All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

Page 70 Section 165 Shifting away from fossil fuels

We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

Page 74 Section 175 Taking on climate can assist the poor

The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions.

Page 82 Section 198 Politicians need to look beyond themselves

While some are concerned only with financial gain, and others with holding on to or increasing their power, what we are left with are conflicts or spurious agreements where the last thing either party is concerned about is caring for the environment and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Here too, we see how true it is that “unity is greater than conflict”.

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From Vatican press conference

  • “We are part of Nature. We don’t have two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather a single complex socio-environmental crisis. This is the frame within which we need to put some of the themes in the Encyclical” – Cardinal Peter Turkson 
  • “In the pages of the Encyclical there is food for thought for all: scientists, economists, sociologists and above all the faithful of the Church” – Metropolitan of Pergamo, John Zizioulas 
  • “The Church should now introduce the sin against the environment, the ecological sin. It is a sin not only against God but also against our neighbour and also, and this is very serious, against future generations” – Metropolitan of Pergamo, John Zizioulas
  • “Business is a human enterprise and therefore must be by people for the people, whereas with business as usual not many of us will be around to enjoy the benefits” – Dr. Carolyn Woo, President & CEO of Catholic Relief Services

From the faith community and religious groups

  • “As responsible citizens of the world – sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family – we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  • “This beautiful and urgent call to action from Pope Francis, besides challenging our lifestyles and behaviors, has perfect timing ahead of the COP21 summit. It was Pope Francis himself who said he wanted the encyclical to influence the international climate negotiations, so now it’s time for Catholics and all people of good will to mobilize and remind world leaders of the moral imperative of climate action.” – Movement Coordinator of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Tomás Insua
  • “Building on the call from his predecessors, Pope Francis draws attention to the plight of the poor among us and our relationship with all of creation. Africa has been waiting for Francis’ message and looks forward to thanking him when he visits Uganda and the Central Africa Republic in November 2015. Young people connected through CYNESA, commit themselves to living the message of Laudato Si, by making it our own.” – GCCM co-founder and Director of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA), Allen Ottaro
  • “At the heart of Laudato Si is an empowering belief in all humanity to work together to safeguard our common home. Pope Francis urges us all to recognise the urgency of the ecological crisis and calls for a change in models of global development –  ‘one world with a common plan’ that recognises that we are all interconnected and in this together – hence the urgent need for dialogue and integral solutions.” – GCCM co-founder and OurVoices Asia Coordinator, Ciara Shannon
  • “Australian Catholics will now be demanding more action from their government. If our parliamentary leaders are to listen to Pope Francis, they would urgently act to reduce the domestic use and export of coal and gas, and scale up support for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. They would end the perverse subsidies provided to extractive industries.” – Professor Neil Ormerod, a Catholic spokesperson for the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC)
  • “We welcome Pope Francis’ critique of the current, dominant economic model that prioritizes the market, profit and unharnessed consumption and regards Earth as a resource to be exploited. We hope that world leaders, at the United Nations Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals in September and international climate talks in Paris in December, will take heed of the Pope’s moral imperative to work for a more just and sustainable world.” – Sister Pat McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
  • “The World Council of Churches welcomes Pope Francis’ encyclical which catalyses what churches and ecumenical organizations have been doing for decades on caring for the earth and climate justice issues. By affirming human induced climate change and its impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable communities, the Encyclical is an important call to urgently act as individuals, citizens and also at the international level to effectively respond to the climate crisis.” – Dr Guillermo Kerber, Programme Executive on Care for Creation and Climate Justice, World Council of Churches
  • “As a true spiritual father, Pope Francis has forcefully and lovingly reminded his family–and all people of goodwill– that our ecological and social ills are rooted in a broken notion of ourselves and our relationships. Even more, Laudato Si offers us a road map to heal those relationships–to offer peace to each person and healing to the world.” – Bill Patenaude, GCCM co-founder and author of CatholiceEology.net
  • “Many communities across the world with whom we work, such as in the Amazon region, are persecuted for defending creation and their rights against megaprojects. These so-called “development projects” for coal mining, monocultures and hydroelectric dams are emblematic of how a powerful few profit from today’s models based on fossil fuels and intensive resource extraction. We urgently have to move away from destructive practices, like by divesting from fossil fuels and redirecting investment towards sustainable energy access for all.” – CIDSE President Heinz Hödl
  • “The coming months will be critical for decisions about development and care for the planet. We hope that politicians and decision makers will take the strong messages of the encyclical on board and that the outcomes of these international meetings will put the common interest first and be able to make the difference.” – Bernd Nilles, CIDSE Secretary General

From the UN and international community

  • “Pope Francis’ encyclical underscores the moral imperative for urgent action on climate change to lift the planet’s most vulnerable populations, protect development, and spur responsible growth. This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year. Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now.” – UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres
  • “As Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat: it is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts. I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?” – Kofi Annan, Chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation

From the scientific and academic community

  • “[T]here is a clear moral imperative to phase out carbon-based energy sources as quickly as possible, transitioning toward renewable, sustainable forms of energy for all. These goals must be pursued and achieved in a way that meets the demands of sufficiency and justice for the most vulnerable.” – Assistant professor of theology, science, and ethics at Fordham University, Christiana Z. Peppard
  • “As a scientist, I think it is essential to connect the dots between climate change and the increasing risk it poses to our families and communities. Keeping our mouths shut on what the data is telling us, even if it’s in fear of vicious reprisals, is like a physician not telling a patient they have a dangerous condition just because they’re afraid of the patient’s reaction.The science isn’t political. It’s the solutions that are political.” – Atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and evangelical Christian, Katharine Hayhoe
  • “The ones politicising the matter are those like Cruz who coddle their fossil fuel funders by denying the science of climate change and smearing those who attempt to point out the very real and damaging impacts climate change is already having. It is shameful and history will judge it as such.” – Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, Michael Mann
  • “Climate science is a tool for making decisions, not a political football. I wish journalists and citizens would ask politicians how they are using climate science to do their jobs — including protecting us from changes in some types of extreme weather — not for their personal opinions about scientific evidence.” – The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Aaron Huertas
  • “We applaud Pope Francis for standing up for the fundamental values of nature. We also welcome the grounding of the Church’s views in science, which transcends national and religious boundaries. The big issue is whether the destruction of the environment has indeed taken place because of a lack of ethics. Most often people don’t think about the damage they cause if they can’t see it. That’s as much a human problem as an ethical one. We believe it’s the political and economic interests that will effect the greatest change, which is why we encourage public, private and voluntary sector organizations to join in developing science-based solutions, the only tools that will really work to crack these problems at the right scale” – Craig Groves, executive director of the Science for Nature and People partnership
  • “Environmental policies throughout Latin America are the result of years of local misguided or absent development policies and associated foreign investments that resulted in an extractive economy that includes such practices as mega mining and deforestation.  Pope Francis’ encyclical proposes the necessary and urgent paradigm change that is required not just in the region but globally. We are all asked to change, to make sacrifices for the most vulnerable.  This is necessary so that we may all live.” – Dr. Pablo Canziani, GCCM co-founder and principal investigator of CONICET (the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina)
  • “’The pope’s message applies to all of us, regardless of our faith. He is imploring people of good will everywhere to honour our moral obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of further climate chaos by embracing our ethical duty to act. We all are paying a high price for rising seas, expanding deserts, blistering heat, withering drought, raging wildfires, floods, storms and other hallmarks of climate change […] We all have a responsibility, as the pontiff reminds us, to do better — by the planet and by our fellow human beings.” –  Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council

From NGOs

  • “From William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in Britain to Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equal rights in the US and Desmond Tutu’s victory over apartheid in South Africa, Christians acting on their sense of moral duty have a history of transforming society for the better. If Christians in Europe and all over the world heed its call as many are already doing, the Pope’s Encyclical could well spark another transformation on a global scale – and Europe and the world would be a better place for it.” – Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Christian Aid, Christine Allen

  • “Pope Francis’s guidance as a pastor and a teacher shines a light on the moral obligation we all share to address the climate crisis that transcends borders and politics. This Encyclical underscores the need for climate action not just to protect our environment, but to protect humankind and the most vulnerable communities among us. The vision laid out in these teachings serves as inspiration to everyone across the world who seeks a more just, compassionate, and healthy future. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune
  • “The Pope has deliberately released the encyclical in a year of key UN moments that will affect humanity, and today he says that climate change is real, urgent and it must be tackled. He is reading the signs of his times and telling us that the human and environmental costs of our current way of life are simply too high. […]  Our response to the Pope’s message can’t simply be short-term tinkering at the edges of our current system but to take the bold decisions now which the poorest people around the world are crying out for.” –  Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD.
  • “The Pope’s moral call to protect the environment and humanity is backed by science. Pope Francis has hit the nail on the head by connecting the climate crisis with its root causes of huge consumption, massive inequality and destruction of ecosystems. As he says, real solutions need to be based on equity, justice and morality.” – Climate Policy Manager for ActionAid International, Harjeet Singh
  • “Climate change will be felt mainly through water – too much in times of flood, too little in times of drought, and in many places increasingly saline or polluted. Though the world’s poorest have done least to contribute to this global catastrophe, they are the most vulnerable to climate change and least able to cope. As the world’s temperature rises, basic needs for water – including drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation and hygiene – must be given priority, to ensure the health and well-being of those most vulnerable, and to make communities more resilient to climatic changes. Developed world support to help least-developed countries adapt to the new realities will be essential.” – Senior Policy Analyst, Water Security and Climate Change, WaterAid UK, Louise Whiting
  • “The message from Pope Francis adds a much needed moral approach to the climate debate. Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable communities […] We hope that the increased attention on climate change and sustainable development this year turns into real commitments from all governments.  2015 must be the year of concrete decisions, just and far-reaching, the year when no-one can evade action.” – WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse
  • “Greenpeace welcomes the valuable intervention of Pope Francis in humanity’s common struggle to prevent catastrophic climate change. This first encyclical on the environment brings the world a step closer to that tipping point where we abandon fossil fuels and fully embrace clean renewable energy for all, by the middle of the century. […] Above all, Pope Francis reminds all of us, individuals through to world leaders, of the moral imperative to address social and climate injustice. It is the poor who are most affected by catastrophic climate change, yet they have contributed least to causing the problem.”  – Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director, Greenpeace
  • “The Pope’s moral call to action is crystal clear: it’s time to move away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future. By putting the climate crisis in spiritual and moral terms, Pope Francis has focused a spotlight on the ethical and economic shift we urgently need in order to prevent catastrophic climate change and tackle growing inequality. […] Today, it’s clearer than ever that the end of the fossil fuel era is upon us — and so too, we hope, the end of the era of rising poverty and inequality. The Pope’s call only hastens our transition to a clean energy future, adding even more momentum to the fast-growing movement to divest from fossil fuels.” – 350.org Executive Director, May Boeve 
  • “The Pope has shown impressive and inspiring leadership where many elected leaders have failed. He is both a friend of the earth and of the millions of people in poorer, vulnerable nations whose lives are already being shattered by extreme weather. […] The Pontiff’s encyclical cuts across the murky politics of climate change and will inspire people way beyond his own church community. In the run up to the critical climate summit in Paris and in its aftermath, politicians must follow his lead, ditch dirty energy vested interests and unleash the massive potential of the clean economy.” – Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton
  • “The call by His Holy Father, His Holiness Pope Francis, reminds us that climate change is first and foremost about people. The gross and growing inequality between rich and poor has been made worse by the climate crisis. Moreover, the emissions of the rich are driving weather extremes that hit the poorest hardest. Only when world leaders heed the Pope’s moral leadership on these two defining issues, inequality and climate change, will our societies become safer, more prosperous and more equal.” – Oxfam International Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima

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