At a Vatican conference at the week-end, Pope Francis has urged oil executives and energy leaders to rapidly transition to clean fuels in order to avert climate disaster.
The head of the Catholic Church said rising greenhouse gas levels were “disturbing and a cause for real concern”.
Aside from the alarming amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, Pope Francis said, “even more worrying is the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.”
Around 80% of fossil fuel reserves would need to be kept in the ground for the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise, the central objective of the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement.
In a similar message to the 2015 Laudato Si’ (Praised Be) letter to Catholics on climate change, Pope Francis called on energy leaders in to show care for “our common home”.
The Laudato Si’ encyclical, published just months ahead of the Paris UN Climate Change Conference in France at which the Paris Agreement was inked, is credited with providing key momentum for the successful clinching of the agreement, as it convinced millions of Catholics world-wide of the urgency to act.
UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa praised the efforts of Pope Francis in a tweet on Sunday :
“Thank you @Pontifex Francis for providing strong spiritual guidance on the need to take decisive #ClimateAction by quickly and decisively transitioning to #CleanEnergy,” she wrote.
Vatican Seeks Dialogue with the Oil Industry and investors
The conference, which was held on 9 June at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, brought oil executives together with investors and Vatican experts who back the scientific evidence that climate change is caused by human activity.
Advocating for a faster transition to clean energy, Pope Francis said, “we need to talk together – industry, investors, researchers and consumers – about transition and the search for alternatives. Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”
The Catholic leader said that the effects of climate change are not evenly distributed. In fact, it is the poor who suffer most from the consequences of climate change such as agricultural sector disruptions, water insecurity and exposure to extreme weather events.
Many of the world’s poor are being forced to migrate from their homes to less welcoming places because of climate change. A world bank report projects that without concrete climate and development action, over 143 million people could be forced to move within their own countries to escape the impacts of climate change.
Further, the report states that internal climate migration will likely rise through 2050 and then accelerate unless there are significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and robust development action.
Pope Francis said that the transition to accessible and clean energy is a “duty that we owe towards millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, poorer countries and generations yet to come.”
“Hence the need to devise a long-term global strategy able to provide energy security and, by laying down precise commitments to meet the problem of climate change, to encourage economic stability, public health, the protection of the environment and integral human development.”, he added.
The pope acknowledged that the demand for energy cannot be satisfied at the cost of the environment.
“Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty,” he said.
The oil and gas industry has come under growing pressure from investors and activists to play a bigger role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Catholic aid agency CAFOD, welcomed the Pope “preaching to the not-yet-converted”.
“Francis reminds us in his encyclical that ‘Business is a noble vocation’, but also asks why anyone would want to be remembered for failing to act when the world’s poorest people are being pushed deeper into poverty by climate change. It’s a question fossil fuel executives would do well to ask themselves,” he said.
“If energy companies are serious about caring for our common home, they need to take the Pope’s advice and hurry up with shifting their priorities – and therefore their money – from fossil fuels to renewables.”
Among the 50 participants were Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil, Claudio Descalzi, head of Italy’s ENI, Bob Dudley of BP, Eldar Saetre, CEO of Norwegian oil firm Equinor (formerly called Statoil), Vicki Hollub of Occidental Petroleum, and investors including Larry Fink of BlackRock.