Pope Francis visits stormy Philippines, highlights moral imperative for climate action

Pope Francis

Pope Francis. Creative Commons: Aleteia Image Department, 2014

Pope Francis has kicked off a new push for moral leadership on climate action, with a record-breaking mass in the storm-ravaged Philippines, and a groundbreaking Encyclical letter on climate change expected in June.

On Saturday he visited Tacloban, where typhoon Haiyan – the strongest storm ever recorded on land – killed more than 7,350 in November, 2013, right before the UN climate conference in Warsaw.

The situation was almost mirrored last year, when typhoon Hagupit again demonstrated the growing impact of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, right as the Lima UN climate talks got underway.

Ironically, Pope Francis’ visit to Tacloban was cut short by a looming tropical storm, but a record six million people still braved wet weather in Manila to see him on Sunday.

On Friday the Pontiff warned that man has “gone too far” and has “slapped nature in the face”, statements simultaneously echoed by scientists who have found human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’, compromising the ability of the planet to sustain human life as we know it.

The Pope said:

[I]t is man who continuously slaps down nature. We have in a sense taken over nature. I think we have exploited nature too much. I think man has gone too far…

The meetings in Peru were nothing much, I was disappointed. There was a lack of courage. We hope that in Paris the representatives have more courage to go forward.

The Pope’s latest comments come ahead of a long-rumoured encyclical – or church document – which will call for measures to address climate change and is expected to warn that such action is “essential to the faith.”

Encyclicals are essentially a papal “state of the nation” address, and the most authoritative form of teaching for Catholics.

It will be will be released to the world’s 5,000 priests and 400,000 priests urging action

Encyclicals are essentially a papal “state of the nation” address, and the most authoritative form of teaching for Catholics. Pope Francis’ strong comments on climate change are aimed at galvanising and mobilising Catholics and people of all faiths behind the moral imperative for climate action.

Pope Francis is increasingly speaking out on the impacts of climate change in order to mobilise not just Christians, but people of faith everywhere ahead of the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris.

This weekend’s comments were welcomed by NGO groups around the world.

Director of advocacy at CAFOD, Neil Thorns said:

Drawing attention to the impact a changing climate is having on poor communities in the Philippines couldn’t be better timed, given the crucial decisions world leaders must take this year to tackle the issue. Vulnerable communities like those in the Philippines — and indeed all of us — need political leaders to rise to that challenge and go further than they did in Lima.

But given the Pope’s strong words on climate action, many campaigners are asking whether it is time for the Vatican to also put its money where its mouth is and divest itself of fossil fuel assets.

Catholic Bishops have urged the Pope to support divestment, and assuming he gets his Prefect in charge of the Secretariat for Economy, former Archbishop of Australia and climate change denier Cardinal George Pell, to continue shaking up Vatican finances, there is hope the he will lead the moral case for climate action.

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