VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Saturday warned some of the most powerful figures in the global energy sector that without their help climate change could put human civilization at risk.
Francis spoke on the second day of a two-day closed-door conference that included many of the world’s most influential oil executives and other energy sector players, including the CEOs from ExxonMobil, BP, Equinor of Norway, and Italy’s Eni.
“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization,” the pope told the more than two-dozen leaders at the event.
Francis said that protecting the environment and helping the poor were the “two great needs” of the world, and he called on the executives and investors at the event to play a role to limit its impacts.
“I invite you to be the core group of leaders who envision the global energy transition in a way that will take into account all the peoples of the Earth, as well as future generations and all species and ecosystems,” Francis said.
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The papal conference comes a little more than a year after President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world’s first global pact to address climate change. It also builds on the foundation created by Laudato Si’, Francis’ first papal encyclical, which three years ago made protection of the environment official Catholic doctrine.
Since the publication of Laudato Si’, dozens of Catholic institutions and some entire dioceses have announced plans to divest from fossil fuels, according to the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
Aside from Francis’ address, little is known about what took place at the meetings Friday and Saturday at the closed-to-the-public 16th century Pius IV villa in the Vatican Gardens. But the pope returned several times to the urgency of taking action.
“Progress has indeed been made,” Francis said. “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.”
Several of the companies represented at the Vatican for the talks have made statements calling for stronger climate policies. But so far that has not translated into action.
Equinor, for example, the Norwegian energy giant formerly known as Statoil, criticized worldwide climate action in a recent report, stating, “The climate debate is long on targets but short on action” and calling for “swift, global, and coordinated political action to drive changes.”
Texas-based ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company, has called for a tax on carbon emissions as a way to reach the goals stated in the Paris Agreement.
But both companies — along with most other multinational energy companies — continue to search for sources of fossil fuels even though, as Laudato Si’ pointed out, much of the fossil fuel already discovered must stay in the ground if the world is to keep warming to within 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit as stated in the Paris Agreement. That is a contradiction Francis highlighted Saturday, telling executives that commercial exploration for new sources of fossil fuels was “even more worrying” than the current levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
Some conservative Catholic groups have criticized Francis’ stand on the environment. But polls show they are outnumbers by those who support it.
Anna Maria Gelli, 67, a nun from Sicily, was part of a small group of demonstrators supporting the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square as officials left the meetings in limousines with dark windows. She held a placard that read, “God loves us … as well as the environment.”
“The world is God’s greatest gift to us and it is our obligation to protect it,” the nun said.