Papal encyclical to have “major impact” says top UN climate official

Christiana Figueres says Pope Francis will stress moral obligation to protect planet for future generations

Pic: Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr

Pic: Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr

By Ed King

The Pope’s impending message on the environment could be a game changer for efforts to achieve a deal to limit global warming, said the UN’s top climate official. 

Speaking on the sidelines of UN negotiations in Bonn, Christiana Figueres said Pope Francis’ encyclical, due on June 18, would likely have a “major impact”.

Senior Vatican officials have indicated this rarely issued letter to all Catholics will focus on the moral imperative to tackle climate change, hunger and poverty.

A recent conference held by two of the Vatican’s leading scientific institutions concluded with a warning that continued burning of fossil fuels was an “existential risk” for the world’s poorest.

Figueres, who met the Pope at the Vatican last year for a private audience, is in little doubt of his commitment to using his position to make a difference.

“He is personally committed like no other Pope before him. He is deeply passionate and eloquent, and the encyclical will communicate that,” she said.

“It will speak to the moral imperative of addressing climate change in a timely fashion in order to protect the most vulnerable.”

The combination of a moral call for action with the economic case for slashing greenhouse gas emissions would be an “unstoppable force” ahead of this year’s planned UN climate pact, she added.

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Impacts from the Pope’s message are already being felt in the US, where a wave of right wing politicians and think tanks have expressed outrage at the intervention.

The Pope is scheduled to take his message on climate to the US Congress later this year, and it’s likely his call for action will leave many Catholic lawmakers on Capitol Hill bruised.

The Heartland Institute said Francis was doing “his flock a disservice” for campaigning on the issue, while White House hopeful Rick Santorum said he should stick to theology.

Others, like Republican leader in the house John Boehner – on record casting doubt on the veracity of climate data – have so far kept their own counsel.

Leading Catholic bishops are understood to have already received email briefings from the Vatican on what to expect from the message and how to communicate it to their congregations.

On Wednesday Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told NPR radio Francis would stress the need for humans to be “good stewards” of the Earth and preserve it for future generations.

“Of course, the pope is not a scientist, but neither is he a politician. He’s a pastor and a teacher, and so he’s going to approach this from that perspective,” he said.

“And climate change touches human beings, touches issues of human flourishing and therefore is a moral issue.”

Wenski added: “I think the pope is not talking out of a vacuum. You have to remember that Pope Benedict was called a green pope because he was the one that put solar panels on the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall.

“And I think now with this new encyclical, maybe Pope Francis will be known as the greener pope.”

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