Oscarline Onwuemenyi, with agency reports
18 June 2015, Sweetcrude, Abuja – A draft copy of a highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, which the Vatican is expected to release today says “the bulk of global warming” is caused by human activity and calls on people — especially the world’s rich — to take steps to mitigate the damage by reducing consumption and reliance on fossil fuels.
A papal encyclical, or teaching document, is among the strongest and most authoritative statements made by the Catholic Church.
In the draft document, the pope backs the science of climate change, saying “plenty of scientific studies point out that the last decades of global warming have been mostly caused by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) especially generated by human action.”
“The poor and the Earth are shouting,” reads the draft of the encyclical, the first of its kind dedicated to the environment.
The encyclical release had been planned for Thursday and was highly anticipated, given Pope Francis’s enormous popularity and what many see as his potential to significantly affect policy in such areas as energy use and economic globalization.
It was timed to influence global meetings later this year about climate, unusual for such a high-level document. It was also seen as an opening salvo on the topic before the pope’s planned trip to the United States in late September.
The encyclical follows centuries of papal teachings that care for creation is a core Catholic value. Francis drew on previous papal remarks on the environment almost as a Supreme Court ruling would cite legal precedent.
In the draft, Pope Francis openly lobbies for renewable energy and blames global warming in part on “a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.” The draft calls for “urgent action” to develop policies to reduce greenhouse gases, including “substituting fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.”
The pope’s encyclical has been widely anticipated by environmentalists and climate scientists as a possible victory in the climate debate that could finally help to break a political logjam and shift public opinion more strongly in favor of climate-change action.
There has been much speculation about how the document could especially move Catholic voters in the United States.
George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that about 70 percent of U.S. Catholics think global warming is happening, a slightly higher percentage than for Americans as a whole (63 percent). Francis was the most trusted individual leader on climate change, according to the George Mason poll.
The encyclical also comes in a year with high potential for international climate action. At the end of 2015, nations will assemble in Paris for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, where they will try to hammer out a global agreement to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions. During his U.S. visit, the pope is expected to speak at the United Nations and before Congress.
A just-released report from the International Energy Agency has amped up the pressure by showing that nations’ current pledges to reduce their emissions — without further action — would fall short of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a widely accepted international target. Beyond 2 degrees Celsius, it is feared, the impacts of climate change could become increasingly severe.
Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute, a faith-based group that works to promote free markets, said the leak will focus attention on potential differences between the draft text and the actual encyclical.
“If this is indeed not the final text, as the Holy See’s press office is stating, then much of the attention will be on differences between the draft text and the actual encyclical. That will fuel ultimately unprovable speculation on why the things that were changed were altered, thereby potentially distracting from the messages of the final text,” he said.