In sequel to his ‘green’ encyclical, Pope Francis urges the rich to do their part to combat climate change

Catholic pontiff blasts the wealthy few who exploit the environment to the detriment of the poor people around the globe.

(Andrew Medichini | AP) Copies of Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter on environment, "Laudate Deum," are on sale in a bookshop in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. Pope Francis shamed and challenged world leaders on Wednesday to commit to binding targets to slow climate change before it's too late, warning that God's increasingly warming creation is fast reaching a "point of no return."

Vatican City • Pope Francis published a follow-up to his encyclical on climate change Wednesday, just as Catholic prelates, faithful and theologians gather at the Vatican for a historic meeting to discuss the church’s future.

In the 12-page document, the pope blasts the selfishness and greed of the wealthy few and urges world leaders meeting later this year at COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to put aside “petty interests” and come together for the good of the environment before it’s too late.

The pontiff stressed that for any kind of effective process to take hold, it needs to be “drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all.”

The new document, “Laudate Deum,” Latin for “Praise the Lord,” builds on the concepts of Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which promoted the care of creation and underlined the interconnectedness of humanity and the world. The publication of the new document coincides with the feast of the pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century friar famous for his concern for the poor and the environment.

It also occurs on the first day of the Synod on Synodality, a historic summit at the Vatican of Catholic faithful who are poised to discuss some of the most hot-button issues in the church, from female ordination to the welcoming of LGBTQ Catholics.

(Gregorio Borgia | AP) Pope Francis, top left, participates in the opening session of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Paul VI Hall at The Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023.

Concerns over climate change were raised in local parish discussions leading up to the synod and were shared by faithful in dioceses all over the world.

“With the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” the pope wrote. “Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident.”

While he acknowledged that the effort of all is essential to change the culture and mindset concerning protection of the environment, Francis called out wealthy elites for their conspicuous consumption.

“The reality is that a low, richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population,” Francis wrote in the document, “and that per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones.”

The poor, the pope continued, are the first victims of climate change. But citing the emissions per individual in wealthier countries such as the United States — which are greater than those of individuals in China or poorer countries — Francis said that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.”

Francis shot down climate change deniers, stating that the “extreme weather phenomena, frequent periods of unusual heat, drought and other cries of protest from the earth” are happening at an unprecedented rate and are directly correlated with human activity and pollution.

Global problems need global solutions, the pope underlined. But this doesn’t mean handing power over to a “world authority concentrated in one person or in an elite with excessive power.” Instead, he said, countries must come together in a multilateral and democratic way.”

Multilateral agreements, such as the Ottawa Process against the use of anti-personnel mines and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, are examples, Francis said, of how nations are “capable of creating effective dynamics that the United Nations cannot.”

Tackling the tension between global and local concerns is at the heart of finding real solutions to such a complex and diversified issue as climate change, the pope said, and requires “a different framework for effective cooperation.”

The pope called for “a change in direction” from world leaders who will meet Nov. 30-Dec. 12 for COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, an oil exporting country, as they address the question of climate change and pollution.

“If we are confident in the capacity of human beings to transcend their petty interests and to think in bigger terms,” he wrote, “we can keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring.”

In the document, the pope also called for a reflection on technology and scientific progress. Contrary to those who place blind faith in the power of technology, Francis wrote, “we say that the world surrounding us is not an object of exploitation, it’s not for unbridled use or unlimited ambition.”

Human beings are a part of nature, Francis continued, writing that “human life, intelligence and freedom are elements of the nature that enriches our planet, part of its internal workings and its equilibrium.”

The pope concluded the encyclical with an explanation of why he chose the title “Laudate Deum.”

“For when human beings claim to take God’s place,” he wrote, “they become their own worst enemies.”