Pope Francis asks oil companies for a ‘radical energy transition’

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The leader of the Catholic Church used his strongest language yet to call for ‘decisive action, here and now.’

There are quite a few dour faces in a group photo taken with the Pope last week. (You can see it here.) It’s no wonder when you discover that they’re all executives of oil companies and he just finished telling them that their line of work “threatens the very future of the human family.”

During a two-day summit at the Vatican, Pope Francis made his strongest stance to date on the climate crisis. Ever since the release of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that we only have a decade to get greenhouse gas emissions under control or face ecological catastrophe, the Pope called for a “radical energy transition,” led by youth and businesses. He told the oil executives,

“We must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations. It is the poor who suffer the worst impacts of the climate crisis. [We require courage in responding to] the increasingly desperate cries of the Earth and its poor.”

The Pope’s statement to the leaders focused on three main points, according to the Vatican News. He called for a transition to cleaner energy, which is included in the Paris Agreement, and if managed well could generate new jobs, reduce inequality, and improve quality of life for many.

He asked for carbon pricing schemes to be implemented, which the CEOs of BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, ConocoPhilips, and Chevron apparently backed, although they said it was the job of governments to “put in place carbon pricing to encourage low-carbon innovation, and [mandate] greater financial transparency to aid investors.”

Finally, the Pope said greater transparency is needed in reporting climate change risk. “Open, transparent, science-based and standardized reporting,” he said, “is in the common interests of all.” This may be a subtle reference to the oil companies’ notorious suppression of climate change data years ago, when it would have been a much easier problem to solve.

Apparently, the leaders agreed with much of what the Pope said, but, not surprisingly, failed to sign any binding pledges to set timelines for goals. Mel Evans, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, told the Guardian,

“They’re still lobbying for business as usual. When it comes to saving the planet they will do what they are forced to do, and no more, which is why we’re having to block them from drilling new oil wells as we speak. Expecting leadership from them is a path to certain disaster.”

The companies themselves are a web of contradictions. BP stated that emissions are rising at their fastest level in close to a decade, and yet served an injunction in the same week to stop one of Greenpeace’s ships from joining an anti-drilling campaign in Scotland that would block one of its rigs.

While the Pope’s efforts to keep clear lines of communication open with the chief perpetrators of our dangerous fossil fuel dependence is admirable, it does seem rather pointless to think that a solution could come from these companies themselves, which are not about to shut themselves down in a valiant effort of self-sacrifice to ‘save the planet.’

The leader of the Catholic Church used his strongest language yet to call for ‘decisive action, here and now.’

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