Pope Francis in Prato. Wiki Commons

Pope Francis declares a global climate emergency

Pope Francis has declared a global climate emergency. In a summit meeting within the Vatican with oil industry executives and some of their biggest investors, the Pope warned of the dangers of global heating and urged immediate and decisive action on the climate crisis.

Advocating for warming to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Pope cited the report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year that detailed catastrophic consequences for vulnerable populations and ecosystems if global temperatures surpass that limit. The IPCC report also said that greenhouse gas emissions must fall to 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030 to achieve that goal.

Pope Francis said a “radical energy transition” would be needed to stay within that limit and urged young people and businesses to take a leading role.

In his toughest address yet on the climate crisis, he further warned that a failure to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gases would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations.”

The impassioned speech is The Pope’s second plea to the leaders of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies on the urgency of the climate crisis. He made his first appeal at a similar meeting last year, but now emphasized that time is running out. The audience of the Pope’s speech during the two-day conference included CEO’s of ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Chevron and Eni as well as the heads of asset managers like BlackRock and BNP Paribas, according to the Associated Press.

In response, the companies called on governments to put in place “economically meaningful” carbon pricing to encourage low-carbon innovation. In a joint statement, they said pricing regimes should be set at a level that encourages business and investment, while “minimizing the costs to vulnerable communities and supporting economic growth.” They also called for companies to be transparent with investors about how they plan to transition to cleaner energy sources.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climatologist and Director Emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who participated in the two-day Vatican conference, described the event to Fortune Magazine as one of the most significant of his 30-year career. “For me, as a climate scientist, it means we are entering a new phase of dealing with [climate change]. The old narratives of denial are buried for good now,” he said.

Pope Francis cautiously commended the companies for supporting carbon pricing, but pushed for further action. Ending the summit meeting on a note of optimism, the Pope stated that “there is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action.”