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Pope Francis in 2013. (Photo: Catholic Church England and Wales/

On 'Moral' Grounds, Pope to Push for Action on Climate Change in 2015

In March, pope will issue an 'encyclical' on the subject of climate change and human ecology to world's 1.2 billion Catholics

Deirdre Fulton

Pope Francis will take on global warming in 2015, with a lengthy speech on human ecology and climate change to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, an address to the United Nations general assembly, and a summit of the world’s main religions, according to the Observer.

The Sunday paper reports:

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

"Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions," Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will issue an 'encyclical' on the subject of climate change, urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds. The document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

While it remains to be seen exactly how he'll frame his argument, the pope has given some indication of his stance on climate change and how it intersects with other issues of the day.

In October, the pope told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: "The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness."

Earlier this month, in a message to Peru’s environment minster Manuel Pulgar Vidal, who led the climate discussions in Lima, Francis said addressing climate change is a "grave ethical and moral responsibility" and warned that "the time to find global solutions is running out."

"In recent months," the Observer reports, "the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation."

In August, the global climate campaign called on Pope Francis to divest the Vatican Bank—with holdings of about $8 billion—from all investments in the fossil fuel industry and publicly support the growing movement to divest from fossil fuels.

"Pope Francis understands the threat of climate change and our moral responsibility to act," director of strategy and communication Jamie Henn said at the time. "We urge him to take appropriate steps to stop the Catholic church from fueling the climate crisis through its investments, and use the power of his office to call on Christians and non-Christians alike to align their investments with their values."

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21, will take place in Paris between November 30-December 11, 2015.

As for the summit of world religions, ThinkProgress reports: "The details surrounding this climate meeting with the world’s religious leaders are currently unclear, but Francis will likely find some parts of his audience willing and amenable to strong climate action. Earlier this year, a group of evangelical Christians urged President Obama to discuss climate change with the Pope at the Vatican, while another told Florida Governor Rick Scott that climate change was a 'pro-life' issue. Leaders from several different religions encouraged the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants at the agency’s public hearings in July, with some saying carbon pollution is 'an affront to God'."

However, not everyone is on board. As John Vidal notes for the Observer: "Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the U.S.—where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate."

Vidal adds: "Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then 'plants would love it'."

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