The Pope and energy policy – a match made in heaven?
23 June 2015
Two key actors in the climate change debate came out last week on the side of action on climate change: the IEA – an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries – and the Pope. These two very different messengers, with very different mandates and stakeholders, shared very similar messages.
It was a significant to see unequivocal support from both the Pope and the energy industry for the scientific proof that climate change is real, is due to human activity and is getting worse. This leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that fossil fuels, alongside deforestation, are the major cause of potentially dramatic and devastating consequences for the population and planet.
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook Special Report on Energy and Climate Change stated that world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy production and use is at double the level of all other sources combined and declared that action to combat climate change must come first and foremost from the energy sector. With IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven stating: "…the energy sector must play a critical role if efforts to reduce emissions are to succeed.”
The report argued that a peak in global energy-related emissions could be achieved as early as 2020 and at no net economic cost – the Holy Grail? It pointed to a number of key areas of focus for the energy industry including increasing energy efficiency and investment, reducing dependency on coal, phasing out fossil fuels and reducing methane emissions.
The Pope’s Encyclical on the environment "Laudato Si (Praise be to you), On the Care of Our Common Home", has in particular called out the “powerful” in the world for “concealing” the symptoms of the problem, instead of recognising climate change for what it is and tackling it head on.
The Holy See issued a rallying cry to politicians, financiers and business alike to legislate, plan and invest for limiting fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy. He wrote: "Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."
In the US leaders of the Catholic Church are already responding by pushing Congress and the White House to catalyse action on climate change. This adds new impetus to the Church’s existing support for a number of measures in Barack Obama’s climate plan – including the new rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants, due to be finalised this summer.
Most importantly, both the IEA report and the Pope's Encyclical add significant weight to the climate change narrative and strengthen the case for action. The fact that these two very important messengers are coming forward at this crucial time and adding their voice to the growing wave of support from governments, business, investors and the military community, demonstrates once again that climate change is no longer the concern of just a few ‘usual suspects’.
I have no doubt that these unlikely allies will play a key role in the negotiations towards a new global climate agreement in Paris this December. And they are clearly not alone; the G7 last week called for the extinction of fossil fuels and the IMF stated the need to end Fossil Fuel subsidies.
What is clear from last week is the decades of denial are firmly behind us and being replaced with an Age of Action. It is now more important than ever that the global agreement on climate change from Paris reflects this new dawn and sets the tone for short-, medium- and long-term action post Paris.
But the gravity of the task ahead should not be underestimated and will require widespread and long-term commitment to collaborative action.