ROME – Warning that “the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” Pope Francis on Wednesday released a new document urging dramatic action to combat climate change ahead of the U.N. COP28 summit scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 12 in Dubai.
The new document, titled Laudate Deum, or “Praise God,” amounts to a strong rejection of skepticism about global warming and the consequences of human intervention in the environment.
“Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident,” the pope writes in the text, released on Oct. 4, the traditional Catholic feast of St. Francis.
Francis acknowledged that at times, those skeptical voices are heard even within his own flock.
“I feel obliged to make these clarifications, which may appear obvious, because of certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church,” he writes.
In terms of assigning blame for the climate crisis, the pontiff is critical of wealthy nations, especially the United States, for disproportionately causing the emissions that scientists believe drive global warming.
“If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact,” he writes.
Francis calls for “drastic” and “intense” results from the Dubai summit, including “a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring,” as well as new commitments for the “necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels.”
Those commitments, the pope says, must be “efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.”
Without such outcomes, the pope warns, COP28 “will be a great disappointment and jeopardize whatever good has been achieved thus far.”
“Although the measures that we can take now are costly, the cost will be all the more burdensome the longer we wait,” he says.
The 7,000-word document, technically an “apostolic exhortation,” is styled as a follow-up to the pontiff’s 2015 encyclical letter Laudato si’, the first papal encyclical ever dedicated entirely to ecological themes.
Francis argues that in the eight years since he published Laudato si’, the evidence of an ecological crisis has become steadily more indisputable.
“No one can ignore the fact that in recent years we have witnessed extreme weather phenomena, frequent periods of unusual heat, drought and other cries of protest on the part of the earth that are only a few palpable expressions of a silent disease that affects everyone,” he writes.
“It is no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change,” the pope states bluntly.
Unusually for a papal text, much of the argument in Laudate Deum is based not on theological or Biblical references but scientific data, such as readings of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere taken on a daily basis since 1958 by the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.
“While I was writing Laudato Si’, they hit a historic high – 400 parts per million – until arriving at 423 parts per million in June 2023,” Francis notes.
The pontiff also points to other signs of rapid climate change, such as a reduction in ice sheets, changes in ocean currents, deforestation in tropical rainforests and the melting of permafrost in Russia.
“It is not possible to conceal the correlation of these global climate phenomena and the accelerated increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly since the mid-twentieth century,” the pope says. “The overwhelming majority of scientists specializing in the climate support this correlation, and only a very small percentage of them seek to deny the evidence.”
As he did in Laudato si’, Francis in part faults what he calls a “technocratic paradigm” for the climate crisis, meaning a belief in unlimited economic and technological growth without concern for its human and environmental consequences.
“Contrary to this technocratic paradigm, we say that the world that surrounds us is not an object of exploitation, unbridled use and unlimited ambition,” the pope writes.
“We need lucidity and honesty in order to recognize in time that our power and the progress we are producing are turning against us,” he says.
To address the situation, Francis calls for a new version of multilateralism in international affairs, which he insists should not be confused with one-world government or a new “elite with excessive power.”
Instead, he says, what’s needed is “more effective world organizations … endowed with real authority.” As an example of effective multilateralism, he cites the Ottawa Process, which led to a 1997 treaty aimed at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world, which, the pope said, shows that civil society sometimes can accomplish what the United Nations can’t.
In spiritual terms, Francis also suggests that solutions to the climate crisis will require a new humility on the part of individuals and societies.
“Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way,” he writes.