Pope Francis Calls for Aggressive Action on Climate Change in Leaked Encyclical

An Italian paper broke embargo and published the document ahead of schedule.


You’d think that God’s emissary on this earth could get the media to respect his embargoes. Pope Francis apparently has no such luck. On Monday, the Italian outlet L’Espresso broke an agreement with the Vatican and published his long-awaited encyclical on climate change ahead of its formal release date Thursday. A Vatican official told Bloomberg that the paper’s decision to publish the document was a “heinous act.”

While Vatican officials say that the leaked document is not the final version, the papal encyclical as written represents a watershed moment for the Church’s environmental advocacy. The document makes no bones about the causes of global warming, saying it’s due mostly to human activity, and makes the case for urgent action to prevent “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.”

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” Francis writes in the draft document, according to the Guardian’s translation from the original Italian. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”

The highly anticipated document comes ahead of a Paris summit meeting later this year in which international negotiators will seek to strike a global climate agreement. By making a forceful argument in favor of of global climate regulations, Francis may help build consensus ahead of that meeting.

In late September, Francis will travel to the United States, his first visit to the country as pope and during which he will address a joint session of Congress, where he faces the challenge of convincing Republicans opposed to climate change legislation to take action to decrease emissions.

After placing poverty, inequality, a more liberal approach on social issues, and, now, climate change at the center of his papacy, Francis finds himself at odds with many conservatives in the United States. That testy relationship extends to many Catholics on Capitol Hill, including the man who invited Francis to address Congress in the first place — Speaker John Boehner.

The Ohio Republican has espoused views on climate change that are out of step with the man who leads the church to which he belongs. “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Boehner said last year. “I am astute to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes to our climate.”

Francis has now made clear that his views are far more in line with President Barack Obama than with Boehner. Will the speaker be willing to continue defying his spiritual leader?

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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