Pope calls for urgent action on climate change

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth," wrote the Pope in a sweeping papal letter which calls for action on phasing out fossil fuels, tackling global water scarcity and adopting a circular economy.

In a 180-page encyclical on the environment, released today (18 June), Pope Francis issued a scathing attack on wealthy nations and big businesses that fail to act on climate change.

The document is, in essence,  a moral call to action as well as a criticism of the modern “throwaway culture” which puts us on the verge of an “ecological crisis”. 

The encyclical – a statement of the Pope’s teaching – said climate change was “a global problem with grave implications” and added “those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”.

In the document, entitled ‘Laudato Si (Praise be to you)’, Pope Francis was unrelenting in his attacks on businesses and countries which allowed poorer nations to suffer.

Throwaway culture

He said technology was only partly helpful in dealing with the problems presented by pollution and climate change. “Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

The encyclical addressed an array of environmental and sustainability problems including recycling, waste disposal, water and air pollution. “These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish… our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.”

The Pope criticised how waste and atmospheric pollution was allowed to affect millions of people around the world and appeared to support a more circular economy. “We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations,” he wrote.

Water scarcity

His encyclical also considered problems of global water scarcity, claiming richer nations had a “grave social debt” towards the poor who lack access to safe drinking water.

“This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance.

“This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.”


The speech has received praise from climate groups and charities in the UK.

Christian Aid’s director of policy and public affairs Christine Allen said: “We’ve heard the scientists, and the economists and the politicians, it’s now time for faith leaders to speak up. Not only is the Pope speaking to Catholics, he’s addressing the whole world.”

Friends of the Earth head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton added: “The Pope has shown impressive and inspiring leadership where many elected leaders have failed.”

The speech comes six months before the Paris climate summit which will see world leaders meet to negotiate a new deal to tackle climate changel. Momntum ahead of those talks is already building and just this week thousands of protesters lobbied MPs on the issue of climate change as part of the Climate Coalition’s ‘For the love of’ campaign.

Pendleton added: “People across the UK and in scores of other nations are also showing leadership in their communities – resisting dirty energy, reaping the benefits of clean, renewable power and protecting neighbourhoods from flooding and drought. The tragedy is that too many governments are currently in thrall to big vested interests and are failing their people.”


Some politicians have, however, been critical of the Pope’s announcement. In the USA, for example, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said he was sceptical of the encyclical.  “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my Pope,” Bush – a Catholic – reportedly said at a meeting in New Hampshire.

Matt Field

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