Pope Francis declares climate emergency

Francis urges fossil fuel CEOs to make a “radical energy transition” and limit
global warming to “1.5°C”

New Delhi,
15th June 2019. Pope Francis delivered a stern warning on climate
change to fossil fuel executives and their major institutional investors. In a
meeting convened by the Vatican, he told them, “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.”

By himself
declaring the world faces a climate emergency, the pontiff gives new impetus to
the calls of activist movements like Extinction Rebellion for governments to
declare a climate emergency.

According to
a press release issued by Global Catholic Climate movement (GCCM), during the
meeting, the pope made his first explicit call to limit global warming to 1.5
degrees Celsius, the threshold past which the consequences of climate change
become catastrophic.

Catholic Climate Movement is a network of 900+ member organizations and
thousands of Catholic people taking action to solve the climate crisis.

referred to
a recent report from the UN’s climate body that indicates emissions must be
reduced by approximately 50% within the next 11 years, saying “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. The Report warns,
moreover, that only one decade or so remains in order to achieve this
confinement of global warming.”

Pope Francis
urged fossil fuel CEOs and institutional investors to make a “radical energy
transition,” saying “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.” The
pope’s concern that fossil fuel companies continue to perpetrate business as
usual, despite claims to the contrary, is evidenced in a speech given last
month in which he said that “Investments in fossil fuels continue to rise, even
though scientists tell us that fossil fuels should remain underground.”

Pope Francis
also referred to the youth mobilizations that have galvanized millions of
climate activists. In his speech, Pope Francis 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.” While
the pontiff was speaking, students from Fridays For Future Rome, a group that
is part of Greta Thunberg’s movement, demonstrated at the Vatican, demanding
that oil CEOs “listen to the Pope.”

Fossil fuel
executives and investors traveled to Rome to present their plans for
implementing the Paris climate agreement to the head of the world’s 1.2 billion
Catholics. As Pope Francis noted, this meeting follows a similar gathering held
last year in which he told CEOs that “the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping
most fossil fuels underground . . . Civilization needs energy use, but energy use
must not destroy civilization!”

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

In contrast,
massive new grassroots movements for action on climate change are sweeping the
world. Global climate strikes and public demonstrations have mobilized
millions. Governments are increasingly responsive, with the most recent action
being legislation to achieve carbon neutrality in the UK by 2050.

The Church
itself has led an ambitious slate of activities to hasten the transition to a
clean energy economy. 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. On the grassroots level, a new climate movement
by and for young Catholics has organized hundreds of climate strikes.

Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN Special Envoy on Climate
Change, also spoke to the CEOs in the Vatican meeting, saying “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, including small island states whose very
existence is threatened by rising sea waters.” Robinson continued, “What could
be more opportunistic and cynical than still seeking to exploit and extract
fossil fuel reserves from under the ground . . . ?”

Allwyn D’Silva, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bombay
, said,

“Here in India, our neighbors are already suffering the consequences of the climate crisis. Unpredictable monsoons flood entire communities, the spread of warm-weather mosquitoes brings malaria, and changes in rainfall patterns devastate small farmers. This is not a scientific crisis. It’s a moral crisis. Every day that fossil fuel companies drill for oil and gas is one more drop of water drowning my people. On their behalf we say: this ends now.”