Pope: World climate emergency demands 'radical energy transition'

At Vatican gathering, Catholic leader backs carbon pricing and challenges climate sceptics who deny global warming.

    Pope Francis has energetically put himself at the forefront of a global debate on how best to reverse climate change [Vatican Media/Handout/Reuters]
    Pope Francis has energetically put himself at the forefront of a global debate on how best to reverse climate change [Vatican Media/Handout/Reuters]

    Pope Francis has told the leaders of global oil and gas corporations that carbon pricing is "essential" to stem global warming and has demanded that climate change deniers listen to science.

    The pontiff's pronouncement on Friday at the Vatican was his clearest statement yet in support of penalising polluters.

    In an address to energy executives at the end of a two-day meeting, the pope called for "open, transparent, science-based and standardised" reporting of climate risk and a "radical energy transition" away from carbon to save the planet.

    Carbon pricing - via taxes or emissions-trading schemes - forces energy consumers to pay the costs of using fossil fuels that contribute to global warming and seeks to stimulate investment in low-carbon technology.

    Governments including those of Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Chile - as well as certain jurisdictions in the United States and Canada - already use carbon taxes to disincentivise climate pollution and raise revenue.

    The Vatican did not release the names of those who attended the closed-door meeting at its Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a follow-up to a similar gathering one year ago.

    But industry sources said the companies represented were energy giants Eni, ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol, BP, Sinopec, ConocoPhillips, Equinor and Chevron.

    Dear Oil CEOs: listen to the Pope

    Students with Fridays For Future Rome

    A small group of demonstrators was gathered outside the gates of the Vatican. Students with the organisation Fridays For Future Rome rallied under the banner, "Dear Oil CEOs: listen to the Pope".

    Multinational oil companies have come under growing pressure from activists and investors to meet the goals outlined in the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement.

    Mark Campanale, executive director of the independent financial think-tank Carbon Tracker, said, "Oil and gas companies have a crucial role to play" and should quickly make "hard decisions in the wake of determined investor and public pressure".

    He added that "asset owners with trillions of dollars under management are also calling for company disclosures of meaningful and material information on plans and investments in the energy transition".

    'Future of the human family'

    Pope Francis, who has often been vocal about environmental protection, has clashed over climate change with leaders such as US President Donald Trump.

    The pontiff said the ecological crisis "threatens the very future of the human family". He implicitly criticised those who, like Trump, deny that climate change is mostly caused by human activity.

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    "For too long, we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis, and doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain," he said.

    Discussion of how to accomplish a speedy energy transition must be rooted in "the best scientific research available today", said the pope.

    Last year, Trump rejected projections that were outlined in a report by his own government and that projected climate change will cause severe economic harm to the US economy.

    Trump also announced his intent for the US to withdraw from the Paris deal, making it the first country to do so among 200 signatories.

    'Take urgent action'

    Pope Francis, who in 2015 wrote an encyclical (a significant document about Catholic Church teaching) on protection of the environment, said time was running out to meet the goals of the Paris accord.

    "Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations," he said.

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    "We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritising short-term economic benefits," he added.

    European companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total have laid out plans to expand their renewable energy businesses and reduce emissions, though many investors say they need to do more. Meanwhile, the US oil majors appear to be falling behind their European counterparts.

    BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said after the meeting that "the world needs to take urgent action to get us on a more sustainable path".

    Dudley added, "It is critical that everyone plays their part - companies and investors, governments and individuals."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies