In a recent conference titled “Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home”, Pope Francis stressed on clean energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels. He noted that "Civilisation requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilisation." The Pope has previously described climate change as "one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day".
Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time. Global warming is the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system and its related effects. Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.
Scientists have also drawn correlation between the widespread use of fossil fuels (beginning with the industrial revolution) and increasing global temperatures. However, fossil fuel reserves have decreased substantially due to their exploitation. A recent report published by environmental groups has revealed that funding for “extreme” fossil fuels such as fuels obtained from ultra-deepwater drilling, fracking, and tar sands, increased by 11% in 2017. Read more on extreme fossil fuels here.
Renewable energy sources are a viable alternative to traditional fuels. However, it often has high costs of collection, conversion, and storage. Furthermore, according to the International Energy Agency, modern renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar, wind, and hydropower provided only 10% of energy consumed in 2015. The total share of modern renewables is projected to grow to only 15% by 2030. Consumption of oil and gas is expected to grow up to 28% by 2040.
Pope Francis is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to lead the Roman Catholic Church. He was chosen as the 266th Pope to succeed Benedict XVI in 2013. Five years into his papacy, polls suggest the Pope enjoys high popularity ratings, among Catholics and other faiths. He is followed by more than 15 million people on Twitter.
He has seen support for his "common touch" and his zealous determination to reform the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy), root out corruption in the Vatican bank and address the history of child sex abuse within the Church. He has also spoken in favour of a two-state solution for Palestine, called for action on issues such as climate change, and has been supportive of scientific development along with equality and social inclusion. He is credited with having a less formal approach to the papacy than his predecessors. However, the Pope maintains a number of traditional views on topics such as abortion and contraception.
In a recent conference in Rome, Pope Francis spoke to a number of senior executives from oil and gas companies on the dangers of fossil fuels and the need for clean energy. He noted that climate change was a challenge of “epochal proportions”. Companies present included ExxonMobil, Eni, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Equinor, and Pemex.
A number of these firms including ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, have announced strategies to reduce emissions in their own operations. Last year, Shell promised to cut its carbon emission in half by 2050. The Pope acknowledged that some progress had been made but added that these actions were not enough.
Stressing on the idea that climate change would disproportionately affect the poor and developing nations, the Pope noted, "We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected. If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger ... the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it." However, "that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels. 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." The pope noted the “worrying” trend of exploration for more fuel reserves despite the Paris Agreement. He encouraged the “sustainable development of renewable forms of energy.”
Pope Francis has called for action against climate change before. In a 2015 encyclical, the Pope appealed for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet,” and called for policies to control emissions. In 2017, he said, "Those who deny it [climate change] should go to the scientists and ask them. They are very clear, very precise."
The Global Catholic Climate Movement notes that dozens of Catholic institutions have divested from fossil fuels. In April 2018 alone, 35 groups divested from fossil fuels, including Catholic banks with €7.5 billion on their balance sheets, Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-affiliated humanitarian assistance organization, and other Catholic institutions. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was established by Pope Pius XI in 1936. The organisation, which has included a number of notable scientists and Nobel Prize winners including Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Schrödinger, Alexander Fleming, and Guglielmo Marconi, has also spoken in support of the Paris Agreement and called for action on climate change.
Our assessment is that the Pope’s recent statements come at a critical time. There has been some scepticism about the threat posed by climate change. US President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the climate agreement and repealed US environment protection orders including the Clean Power Plan. It is important to acknowledge that climate change has scientific precedent, and that it is becoming increasingly essential to develop alternate sources of energy.