Cardinal hints at main themes in Pope’s climate change encyclical

Leader of Catholic church will offer leaders hope, says official, and address causes of poverty and environmental degradation

(Pic: Flickr/Catholic Church England and Wales)

(Pic: Flickr/Catholic Church England and Wales)

By Ed King

A senior Vatican Cardinal who helped craft Pope Francis’ expected encyclical on the environment has offered some clues on what it will contain.

It will, said Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “explore the relationship between care for creation, integral human development and concern for the poor.”

The Pope will seek to bring the “warmth of hope” to the wider debates on climate change and development, he said, while steering a path away from the “Herods” and “omens of destruction and death.”

Turkson, who was speaking at a conference in Ireland, added the next 10 months were “crucial” to determine the stability of the environment.

We’ve picked out some of his key comments below – you can read the full address here.

“The timing of the encyclical is significant: 2015 is a critical year for humanity. In July, nations will gather for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa. In September, the U.N. General Assembly should agree on a new set of sustainable development goals running until 2030.

“In December, the Climate Change Conference in Paris will receive the plans and commitments of each Government to slow or reduce global warming. The coming 10 months are crucial, then, for decisions about international development, human flourishing and care for the common home we call planet Earth.”

On science

“Compelled by the scientific evidence for climate change, we are called to care for humanity and to respect the grammar of nature as virtues in their own right.  This is the second principle that underpins Pope Francis’ approach to integral ecology as the basis for authentic development.

“In an aeroplane interview while returning from Korea last August, the Holy Father said that one of the challenges he faces in his encyclical on ecology is how to address the scientific debate about climate change and its origins.

“Is it the outcome of cyclical processes of nature, of human activities (anthropogenic), or perhaps both?  What is not contested is that our planet is getting warmer.  The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has undertaken the most comprehensive assessment of climate change.

“Its November 2014 Synthesis Report was as stark as it was challenging.  In the words of Thomas Stocker, the co-chair of the IPCC Working Group I: “Our assessment finds that the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen and the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased to a level unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

Challenging sceptics

“Yet even the compelling consensus of over 800 scientists of the IPCC will have its critics and its challengers.  For Pope Francis, however, this is not the point. For the Christian, to care for God’s ongoing work of creation is a duty, irrespective of the causes of climate change.

“To care for creation, to develop and live an integral ecology as the basis for development and peace in the world, is a fundamental Christian duty.  As Pope Francis put it in his morning homily at Santa Marta on 9 February, it is wrong and a distraction to contrast “green” and “Christian.”

“In fact, “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.”

Addressing injustice

“So when Pope Francis says that destroying the environment is a grave sin; when he says that it is not large families that cause poverty but an economic culture that puts money and profit ahead of people; when he says that we cannot save the environment without also addressing the profound injustices in the distribution of the goods of the earth; when he says that this is “an economy that kills” – he is not making some political comment about the relative merits of capitalism and communism.

“He is rather restating ancient Biblical teaching.  He is pointing to the fact that being a protector of creation, of the poor, of the dignity of every human person is a sine qua non of being Christian, of being fully human.

“He is pointing to the ominous signs in nature that suggest that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little, that our relationship with the Creator, with our neighbour, especially the poor, and with the environment has become fundamentally “un-kept”, and that we are now at serious risk of a concomitant human, environmental and relational degradation.”


“The wealth of the top 1% has grown 60% in the last twenty years, and it continued to grow through the global economic crisis.  Despite the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change signed in Rio in 1992 and subsequent agreements, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue their upward trend, almost 50 per cent above 1990 levels.

“The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a level last seen 3 million years ago – when the planet was significantly warmer than it is today.  Millions of hectares of forest are lost every year, many species are being driven closer to extinction, and renewable water resources are becoming scarcer.

“As we confront the threat of environmental catastrophe on a global scale, I am confident that a shaft of light will break through the heavy clouds and bring us what Pope Francis describes as the warmth of hope!”

These are a series of excerpts from a longer address made by Cardinal Turkson at the Catholic Irish Bishop’s conference on March 5.

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