Written by: Kimberly White 

The Vatican is calling for an immediate phase-out of fossil fuels. A top Vatican official has signaled support for an agreement to cease fossil fuel expansion and phase-out existing production.

During a press conference centered around Pope Francis’ World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, an initiative that aims to spur global support for a binding global plan to end the expansion of fossil fuel exploration and production, phase-out existing production, and catalyze an equitable transition to 100 percent access to renewable energy. 

“Regarding COP27, Pope Francis again joins scientists in holding to the Paris Agreement’s temperature increase goal of 1.5°C. The planet already is 1.2°C hotter, yet new fossil fuel projects every day accelerate our race towards the precipice,” said Czerny. “Enough is enough. All new exploration and production of coal, oil, and gas must immediately end, and existing production of fossil fuels must be urgently phased out. This must be a just transition for impacted workers into environmentally sound alternatives. The proposed Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty holds great promise to complement and enhance the Paris Agreement.” 

Pope Francis calls for an end to ‘tyrannical anthropocentrism’ 

Pope Francis lamented humanity’s consumerist ways in his message for the Celebration of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, noting that mother earth is crying out and calling for an end to the ‘tyrannical anthropocentrism’ leading to the destruction of our common home. 

Francis also stated that we need more than an ecological conversion to effect change. Rather, an ecological conversion will need to take place concurrently with a community conversion. This will require nations to bring forth their utmost commitment and action in the spirit of maximum cooperation to tackle the converging environmental crises facing our planet. He added that the COP27 climate conference set to take place in Sharm El Sheikh later this year represents an opportunity for all world leaders to join together to take bold, ambitious climate action to support the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. 

“The effort to achieve the Paris goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C is quite demanding; it calls for responsible cooperation between all nations in presenting climate plans or more ambitious nationally determined contributions in order to reduce to zero, as quickly as possible, net greenhouse gas emissions,” stated Pope Francis. 

“This means ‘converting’ models of consumption and production, as well as lifestyles, in a way more respectful of creation and the integral human development of all peoples, present and future, a development grounded in responsibility, prudence/precaution, solidarity, concern for the poor and for future generations. Underlying all this, there is need for a covenant between human beings and the environment, which, for us believers, is a mirror reflecting ‘the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.’ The transition brought about by this conversion cannot neglect the demands of justice, especially for those workers who are most affected by the impact of climate change.”

The role of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty in tackling climate change

The proposed Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would complement the Paris Agreement as it could serve as a specific international mechanism to manage an equitable, swift phase-out of coal, oil, and gas to help reduce countries’ fossil fuel dependency, facilitate a rapid transition to renewable energy, and help diversify economies. 

The burning of fossil fuels is a predominant driver of the climate crisis. Fossil fuels have accounted for roughly 80 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Centuries later, this pattern has hardly changed as fossil fuels have contributed to 86 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the last decade alone. Yet, despite consistent warnings from scientists as well as recent reports from the IPCC, United Nations, and the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel companies are projected to spend nearly $1 trillion on new fossil fuel developments within the next eight years. 

Governments have also failed to recognize the severity of inaction on fossil fuels. While governments have pledged to lower emissions, some going as far as setting net-zero targets, governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C as outlined by the Paris Agreement. 

More than $11 million is spent every minute in global subsidies for the coal, oil, and gas industries. In total, an estimated $423 billion is spent each year to subsidize fossil fuel consumption.

Globally, fossil fuel production has to fall by at least six percent each year from now until 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C. This will require limits to be placed on extraction, elimination of production subsidies, dismantling the existing unnecessary infrastructure, and shifting toward more sustainable alternative energy sources, says the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. 

“There is no doubt that science and economics have long pointed to fossil fuel production as the Achilles heel of the climate crisis. There is a finite science-based carbon budget to keep heating to no more than 1.5°C, which means most fossil fuels need to remain in the ground. This vulnerability of a fossil fuel-based energy system can no longer be ignored,” said Mark Campanale, Founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative. 

The Vatican’s endorsement of the treaty is significant and adds to the growing global momentum surrounding the proposed treaty. The Vatican joins scientists, researchers, academics, Nobel laureates, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, religious leaders, youth activists, and cities that support the proposal. 

“This latest endorsement from the Vatican makes it even harder for world leaders to ignore the central role of fossil fuels in the climate catastrophe unfolding around us,” said Campanale.

“What is needed now is moral courage. We welcome Cardinal Czerny as part of this growing choir of voices across not just religious communities but also health professionals, parliamentarians, youth leaders, Indigenous communities, Nobel Laureates, scientists, and academics. They all recognize that expansion of fossil fuel production magnifies the climate crisis but also undermines all of the living systems that are core to our survival. This is not a drill. We need urgent and bold action to slow the damage and put us on a more sustainable, just path,” stated Tzeporah Berman, Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative.

Catholic institutions heed Pope Francis’ call for fossil fuel divestment

The Vatican’s support for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty builds on its ongoing calls for fossil fuel divestment. 

A few weeks earlier, several Catholic churches announced their divestment from fossil fuel companies. In a joint statement organized by the World Council of Churches, Operation Noah, Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans, and GreenFaith, 35 faith institutions with more than $1.2 billion in combined assets under management announced a multimillion-dollar divestment from fossil fuel companies. Catholic institutions’ divestment amounted to $500 million. 

Ahead of COP26 last year, 72 faith institutions with more than $4.2 billion in combined assets under management announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels. This group featured a number of Catholic institutions, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland; 15 Catholic dioceses in England, Scotland, and Ireland; and Catholic universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Header Image Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)