A new 226-page document issued by the Vatican on Thursday was applauded by climate campaigners who said the new environmental guidance from the Catholic Church and Pope Francis, including a call to divest financially from the fossil fuel industry, exemplifies the positive and far-reaching role that faith organizations can play in the global effort to lower emissions and usher in an era of spiritual as well as planetary rebirth.
With the text released so far only in Italian—and titled “On the Journey for Care of the Common Home”—the new treatise serves as a practical guide to help Catholics implement the Pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ which called on church followers to recognize climate action as a duty of the faithful and urge people throughout the world to treat Earth “like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign affairs minister for foreign affairs, detailed the document at a Vatican news conference Thursday and placed the imperatives contained in the document—which sets guidelines the Church’s dioceses, parishes, missions and movements around the globe—in the context of the current “historical moment ” that includes environmental degradation, the coronavirus pandemic, and the many other challenges faced by a rapidly warming and gravely inequitable world.
“The COVID-19 pandemic leads us to further experience the socioeconomic, ecological and ethical crisis that we are living as the right moment to stimulate conversation and make concrete and urgent decisions,” Gallagher said.
“Faith groups continue to lead the way and clearly indicate to the rest of the world that any future investments or stimulus funds must exclude fossil fuels and yield long-term structural emissions reductions. We must urge all sectors of society to use this opportunity to accelerate the transition needed towards low- and zero-carbon.”
— Yossi Cadan, 350.orgAccording to the Vatican News,
the interdicasterial document examines the issue of climate change, saying it has “a profound environmental, ethical, economic, political, and social ‘relevance'” which “impacts the poor above all.” Therefore, we first need “a new model of development” that links the fight against climate change to the fight against poverty, “in tune with the Social Doctrine of the Church.”
Recalling that “no one acts alone,” the document calls for a commitment to “low carbon” sustainable development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals made in this area include the reforestation of areas such as the Amazon rainforest, along with support for the international process aimed at defining the category of “climate refugee” to ensure them “necessary legal and humanitarian protections.”
While Gallagher in his remarks acknowledged that President Donald Trump has dragged the U.S. away from the previous commitments to robust climate action—including his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement—the Archbishop said there is still hope for America to rejoin the rest of the global community in the fight.
“I think that humanity will not be blown off course by any decisions by anybody,” he said in a veiled reference to Trump. “But obviously we welcome anyone coming back to the table.”
The document, which emerges with the Pope’s blessing, urges the de-carbonization of the global economy and urges investment in “clean and renewable” energy to protect the world’s oceans, “the common good of entire human family,’ and ecological systems. It also promotes a more sustainable “circular economy” that reduces exploitation of people and natural resources and a reform to government subsidies of fossil fuels. In addition to a tax on carbon and other forms pollution, the document encourages Catholics to divest from oil, coal, and gas and to reinvest in life-affirming forms of energy.
In response to the call, author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said it was a welcome development amidst otherwise dire landscape.
“The Vatican’s call for divestment is a breath of hope in times when faith is more needed than ever,” McKibben said in a statement. “It is also one of the handful of great moments in this decade-long campaign. It is a powerful statement that attempting to profit off the destruction of the planet is plainly and simply immoral and unethical.”
Yossi Cadan, manager of the Global Finance Campaign at 350.org, added that while the Pope’s Laudato Si —an unprecedented pronouncement when it was put forth five years—already made clear Francis’ sense of urgency in the climate crisis, the new document is “a strong statement that the Vatican is supporting the call of many institutions, companies, the youth and other groups who already showed that the only way to rebuild our societies and economies is through a Just Recovery that centers people’s needs and not major polluters corporate interests, which led us to the global climate crisis we face now.”
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Archbishop Gallagher said the text seeks “to relaunch the rich contents” of an encyclical still relevant today and even more so in the light of a world hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It also aims to provide a guide to reading “Laudato Si’” and for its practical implementation. Furthermore, it seeks to encourage greater collaboration between the offices of the Roman Curia and Catholic institutions worldwide that are already engaged in the dissemination and implementation of “Laudato Si’.”
Tomás Insua, co-founder and executive director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement and a participant on the Vatican panel presenting the book, described the publication as “a road map for the post-Covid-19 world.” He said it includes “so many great stories from all corners of the globe and all sectors of the church,” including the movement he leads, that illustrate ways in which the encyclical is already being implemented across the world.
350.org noted that while the global fossil fuel divestment last month celebrated “the largest-ever announcement of divestment by faith institutions” in history—with 42 institutions across 14 countries pledging to cut financial ties with the fossil fuel industry—there is still a long way to go.
“Faith groups continue to lead the way and clearly indicate to the rest of the world that any future investments or stimulus funds must exclude fossil fuels and yield long-term structural emissions reductions,” said Cadan. “We must urge all sectors of society to use this opportunity to accelerate the transition needed towards low- and zero-carbon.”