ROME — Pope Francis has told world oil executives that the transition to less-polluting energy sources “is a challenge of epochal proportions.”

Francis told the gathering Saturday that modern society with its “massive movement of information, persons and things requires an immense supply of energy.” And still, he said, as many as one billion people lack electricity.

“The energy question has become one of the principal challenges, in theory and in practice, facing the international community,” the pontiff said. “The way we meet this challenge will determine our overall quality of life and the real possibility either of resolving conflicts in different areas of our world or, on account of grave environmental imbalances and lack of access to energy, providing them with new fuel to destroy social stability and human lives.”

The pope said that meeting the energy needs of everyone on Earth must be done in ways “that avoid creating environmental imbalances resulting in deterioration and pollution gravely harmful to our human family, both now and in the future.”

“Air quality, sea levels, adequate fresh water reserves, climate control and the balance of delicate ecosystems – all are necessarily affected by the ways that human beings satisfy their ‘thirst’ for energy, often, sad to say, with grave disparities,” Francis said.

The pope commended the oil and gas companies for “developing more careful approaches to the assessment of climate risk and adjusting their business practices accordingly.”

“Global investors are refining their investment strategies to take into account environmental and sustainability questions. New approaches to ‘green finance’ are beginning to emerge,” Francis said.

“Progress has indeed been made. But is it enough? Will we turn the corner in time? No one can answer that with certainty, but with each month that passes, the challenge of energy transition becomes more pressing,” he continued.

The Vatican says the two-day conference with oil executives that ends Saturday is a follow-up to Laudato Si’, the pope’s encyclical three years ago calling on people to save the planet from climate change and other environmental ills.

Crux staff contributed to this report.