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In Sequel to ‘Green’ Encyclical, Pope Urges Rich to Do Their Part to Combat Climate Change

Green Encyclical
Copies of Pope Francis’ latest letter on the environment, "Laudate Deum," are on sale in a bookshop in Rome, Oct. 4, 2023. Pope Francis shamed and challenged world leaders on Wednesday to commit to binding targets to slow climate change before it’s too late, warning that God’s increasingly warming creation is fast reaching a “point of no return.” (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis published a follow-up to his encyclical on climate change Wednesday (Oct. 4), just as Catholic prelates, faithful and theologians gather at the Vatican for a historic meeting to discuss the future of the church.

In the 12-page document, the pope blasts the selfishness and greed of the wealthy few and urged world leaders meeting later this year at COP28 to put “petty interests” aside and come together for the good of the environment before it’s too late.

The pope stressed that for any kind of effective process to take hold, it needs to be “drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all.”

The new document, “Laudate Deum,” Latin for “Praise the Lord,” builds on the concepts of Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which promoted the care of creation and underlined the interconnectedness of humanity and the world. The publication of the new document coincides with the feast of the pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar famous for his concern for the poor and the environment.

The publication also occurs on the first day of the Synod on Synodality, a historic summit of Catholic faithful at the Vatican who are poised to discuss some of the most hot-button issues in the church, from female ordination to the welcoming of LGBTQ Catholics.

Concerns over climate change were raised in the local parish discussions leading up to the synod and were shared by faithful in dioceses all over the world.

“With the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” the pope wrote. “Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident,” he added.

While he acknowledged that the effort of all is essential to change the culture and mindset concerning protection of the environment, Francis called out wealthy elites for their conspicuous consumption.

“The reality is that a low, richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population, and that per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones,” Francis wrote in the document.

The poor, the pope continued, are the first victims of climate change. But citing the emissions per individual in wealthier countries such as the United States — which are greater than those of individuals in China or poorer countries — Francis said that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.”

Francis shot down climate change deniers, stating that the “extreme weather phenomena, frequent periods of unusual heat, drought and other cries of protest from the earth” are happening at an unprecedented rate and are directly correlated with human activity and pollution.

Global problems need global solutions, the pope underlined. But this doesn’t mean handing power over to a “world authority concentrated in one person or in an elite with excessive power.” Instead, countries must come together in a multilateral and democratic way, he said.