Pope Francis' climate concern | Daily News

Pope Francis' climate concern

Pope Francis is greeted by a migrant at a mass to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his visit in Lampedusa. – The Guardian
Pope Francis is greeted by a migrant at a mass to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his visit in Lampedusa. – The Guardian

Pope Francis has declared a global “climate emergency”, warning of the dangers of global heating and that a failure to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gases would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations”. He said a “radical energy transition” would be needed to stay within that limit, and urged young people and businesses to take a leading role.

“Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility,” he said, in his strongest and most direct intervention yet on the climate crisis. “Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for a change.”

The Pope’s impassioned plea came as he met the leaders of some of the world’s biggest multinational oil companies in the Vatican on Friday to impress upon them the urgency and scale of the challenge, and their central role in tackling the emissions crisis. It followed a similar meeting last year, but this time the Pope’s stance was tougher as he warned that time was running out and urged them to hear “the increasingly desperate cries of the earth and its poor”.

The chief executives or chairs of BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, Conoco Philips, Chevron and several major investors including Black Rock and Hermes, responded by calling on governments to put in place carbon pricing to encourage low-carbon innovation, and called for greater financial transparency to aid investors.

However, they made no pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and set no timetable for action.

In two statements, which came at the end of a two-day meeting in the Vatican that was addressed by the pope and led by senior Vatican churchmen, the signatories called for a “combination of policies and carbon pricing mechanisms … designed in a way that simultaneously delivers innovation and investment in low-carbon solutions while assisting those least able to pay”.

Emissions are rising at their fastest level in close to a decade, BP said this week, leaving an ever shorter period to prevent dangerous levels of global heating. Every year of high emissions takes the world closer to the brink, because it adds to the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can take a century to dissipate. Last month, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere showed the second highest annual increase since continuous records began more than 60 years ago.

In previous speeches, the pope has slammed “the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves” and said “fossil fuels should remain underground”.

Mark Campanale, founder and executive director of the Carbon Tracker, said: “We must forego business-as-usual protocols and short-term market-driven goals or face environmental and financial ruin of catastrophic proportions. Oil and gas companies have a crucial role to play in transitioning to a low-carbon economy but must today collectively take those hard decisions in the wake of determined investor and public pressure, and unambiguous scientific evidence.”

The IPCC warned last year that the world had about a decade to bring greenhouse gases under control, or face a probable rise in temperatures well beyond the 1.5C above pre-industrial levels they warned would bring devastating effects such as droughts, floods, heat waves and damage to agriculture.

Doomsday analysis due to climate change

In 2017-18, the Australian Senate inquired into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security. The inquiry found that climate change is “a current and existential national security risk”, one that “threatens the premature extinction of Earth originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.

Climate change intersects with pre-existing national security risks to function as a threat multiplier and accelerant to instability, contributing to escalating cycles of humanitarian and socio-political crises, conflict and forced migration.

Climate-change impacts on food and water systems, declining crop yields and rising food prices driven by drought, wildfire and harvest failures have already become catalysts for social breakdown and conflict across the Middle East, the Maghreb and the Sahel, contributing to the European migration crisis. Understanding and foreseeing such events depends crucially on an appreciation of the real strengths and limitations of climate-science projections, and the application of risk-management frameworks which differ fundamentally from conventional practice.


Scientists warn that warming of 4°C is incompatible with an organised global community, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable. The World Bank says it may be “beyond adaptation”. But an existential threat may also exist for many peoples and regions at a significantly lower level of warming. In 2017, 3°C of warming was categorised as “catastrophic” with a warning that, on a path of unchecked emissions, low-probability, high-impact warming could be catastrophic by 2050.


Because the consequences are so severe — perhaps the end of human global civilisation as we know it “even for an honest, truth-seeking, and well intentioned investigator it is difficult to think and act rationally in regard to… existential risks”. What are the plausible worst cases? And how can one tell? Are scientists self-censoring to avoid talking about extremely unpleasant outcomes? Do scientists avoid talking about the most alarming cases to motivate engagement?

What is needed now is an approach to risk management which is fundamentally different from conventional practice. It would focus on the high-end, unprecedented possibilities, instead of assessing middle-of-the-road probabilities on the basis of historic experience.


A number of ecosystems collapse, including coral reef systems, the Amazon rainforest and in the Arctic. Some poorer nations and regions, which lack capacity to provide artificially-cooled environments for their populations, become unviable. Deadly heat conditions persist for more than 100 days per year in West Africa, tropical South America, the Middle East and South-East Asia, contributing to more than a billion people being displaced from the tropical zone. Water availability decreases sharply in the most affected regions at lower latitudes (dry tropics and subtropics), affecting about two billion people worldwide. Agriculture becomes nonviable in the dry subtropics.

Most regions in the world see a significant drop in food production and increasing numbers of extreme weather events, including heat waves, floods and storms. Food production is inadequate to feed the global population and food prices skyrocket, as a consequence of a one-fifth decline in crop yields, a decline in the nutrition content of food crops, a catastrophic decline in insect populations, desertification, monsoon failure and chronic water shortages, and conditions too hot for human habitation in significant food-growing regions.

The lower reaches of the agriculturally-important river deltas such as the Mekong, Ganges and Nile are inundated, and significant sectors of some of the world’s most populous cities — including Chennai, Mumbai, Jakarta, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Hong Kong, HoChi Minh City, Shanghai, Lagos, Bangkok and Manila —are abandoned. Some small islands become uninhabitable. Ten percent of Bangladesh is inundated, displacing 15 million people.

Even for 2°C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end.

National security consequences

Massive nonlinear events in the global environment give rise to massive nonlinear societal events. In this scenario, nations around the world will be overwhelmed by the scale of change and pernicious challenges, such as pandemic disease. The internal cohesion of nations will be under great stress, including in the United States, both as a result of a dramatic rise in migration and changes in agricultural patterns and water availability. The flooding of coastal communities around the world, especially in the Netherlands, the United States, South Asia, and China, has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities.

Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely and nuclear war is possible. The social consequences range from increased religious fervour to outright chaos. In this scenario, climate change provokes a permanent shift in the relationship of humankind to nature ’.


* Recognise the limitations of policy-relevant climate change research which may exhibit scientific reticence.

* Adopt a scenario approach giving specific attention to high-end warming possibilities in understanding medium-range (mid-century) climate and security risks, particularly because of the existential implications.

* Give analytical focus to the role of near-term action as a determinant in preventing planetary and human systems reaching a “point of no return” by mid-century, in which the prospect of a largely uninhabitable Earth leads to the breakdown of nations and the international order.

* Urgently examine the role that the national security sector can play in providing leadership and capacity for a near-term, society-wide, emergency mobilisation of labour and resources, of a scale unprecedented in peacetime, to build a zero-emissions industrial system and draw down carbon to protect human civilisation.

What should Sri Lanka do

• All agencies linked to the environment should work together through an appropriate mechanism

• Validated scientific information must be used real time

• Water is key to survive. Policy papers such as those recommending Water Security Council should be looked at urgently. Measures to protect, conserve, recycle, recharge should become active considerations

• The cost to the economy, ecology, fauna, flora and people should be looked upon as a national security issue

• Climate change and impact on food production must be focused

• Regional and intraregional links must be recognized and worked on cohesively 

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