Draft of Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical Leaks

It calls on world governments to work together to fight climate change.

Pope Francis waves to the boy scouts gathered in St. Peter's Square on June 13, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
June 15, 2015, 9:58 a.m.

An Itali­an magazine has leaked a draft of Pope Fran­cis’s an­ti­cip­ated en­cyc­lic­al on cli­mate change, which says glob­al warm­ing is a threat to the world’s poor and calls on gov­ern­ments to work to­geth­er to solve the prob­lem.

A 192-page Itali­an-lan­guage ver­sion of the en­cyc­lic­al, set to be re­leased Thursday, was leaked by L’Es­presso. An of­fi­cial state­ment from the Vat­ic­an says the doc­u­ment does not rep­res­ent the fi­nal text, and a spokes­man told Bloomberg that the leak was a “hein­ous act.”

The doc­u­ment, titled “Laud­ato Sii,” is meant to in­flu­ence the United Na­tions cli­mate talks in Par­is at the end of the year, but is ex­pec­ted to also make waves in the na­tion­al de­bate about cli­mate change. Green groups and the faith com­munity are call­ing it po­ten­tially one of the most in­flu­en­tial doc­u­ments on cli­mate change, while skep­tics have been quick to dis­miss the po­ten­tial im­pact.

Based on a Google trans­la­tion of the doc­u­ment, here’s what you need to know about what the draft says.

1) Glob­al warm­ing is real

While the doc­u­ment largely fo­cuses on theo­logy and mor­al­ity, it does go head­long in­to the sci­ence of the causes and im­pacts of cli­mate change. The draft doc­u­ment says there is a sci­entif­ic con­sensus that the cli­mate is warm­ing be­cause of hu­man ac­tions, and that it is re­flec­ted in rising sea levels and in­creas­ing ex­treme weath­er events. The doc­u­ment even goes fur­ther in­to spe­cif­ic con­sequences of cli­mate change on biod­iversity and mar­ine life, among oth­ers.

2) Fossil fuels are a prob­lem

The en­cyc­lic­al states that fossil fuels, such as oil and to a less­er ex­tent nat­ur­al gas, should be phased out without delay in fa­vor of re­new­able en­ergy. While re­new­able power is built up, the en­cyc­lic­al says, it is per­miss­ible to rely on fossil fuels, but that over­all, the ex­trac­tion and burn­ing of oil and gas is evil. The doc­u­ment fur­ther calls for coun­tries to ad­opt policies that will re­duce emis­sions of car­bon di­ox­ides and oth­er gases.

One policy that Fran­cis dis­misses is the use of car­bon cred­its, which he says could give rise to spec­u­la­tion rather than dir­ect ac­tion to re­duce emis­sions.

3) Gov­ern­ments should act on cli­mate change — and do it right

The tim­ing of the en­cyc­lic­al is no mys­tery — Vat­ic­an of­fi­cials have said the doc­u­ment is meant to in­flu­ence the United Na­tions cli­mate talks in Par­is this year. Fran­cis re­peatedly calls on gov­ern­ments to fight cli­mate change, both do­mest­ic­ally and through in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ments.

Fran­cis says pre­vi­ous in­ter­na­tion­al ne­go­ti­ations, spe­cific­ally the 2012 UN meet­ings in Rio de Janeiro, pro­duced in­ef­fect­ive res­ults be­cause coun­tries were look­ing after the own in­terests rather than the com­mon good. Fran­cis also is call­ing on coun­tries to set their own long-term policies on cli­mate change, warn­ing that en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions should not change as gov­ern­ments come in and out of power.

4) Poor people are feel­ing the im­pact

Giv­en Fran­cis’s fo­cus on the poor throughout his papacy, it was ex­pec­ted that his en­cyc­lic­al would high­light how cli­mate change has im­pacted poor na­tions and com­munit­ies. The doc­u­ment says that the im­pacts will fall heav­iest on de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, which will feel a great­er brunt from warm­ing and are see­ing de­ple­tion of crops, wa­ter, and oth­er nat­ur­al re­sources. Fur­ther, Fran­cis points out that poor people may flee coun­tries be­cause of en­vir­on­ment­al de­grad­a­tion and de­cries a gen­er­al in­dif­fer­ence to this plight from the de­veloped world.

5) Rich coun­tries should take the bur­den

The doc­u­ment goes after in­ac­tion by de­veloped na­tions, which Fran­cis says have been con­sum­ing re­sources without con­cern for the plan­et and the poor. Fran­cis high­lights oth­er neg­at­ive im­pacts of the de­veloped world, such as the privat­iz­a­tion of green spaces and the im­prop­er dis­pos­al of re­sources by in­dus­tri­al activ­ity. Be­cause of that, Fran­cis says that it’s in­cum­bent on de­veloped coun­tries to con­sider the needs of the poor while ad­dress­ing cli­mate change and emis­sions.

Earli­er ac­tion, he says, was held back by coun­tries try­ing to pro­tect their own in­terests rather than think­ing glob­ally; a fu­ture agree­ment, he says, must rely on de­veloped coun­tries tak­ing re­spons­ib­il­ity for their pre­vi­ous emis­sions and cut­ting back on con­sump­tion, while also help­ing poorer coun­tries in­vest in re­new­able en­ergy.

Clare Foran contributed to this article.
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