Pope Francis in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 3, 2023.

Pope Francis calls out fossil fuel companies, says climate action is too slow

Pope Francis made his strongest statements yet about climate change Wednesday, rebuking fossil fuel companies and urging countries to make an immediate transition to renewable energy.

In a new document titled “Laudate Deum,” or “Praise God,” the pope criticizes oil and gas companies for greenwashing new fossil fuel projects and calls for more ambitious efforts in the West to tackle the climate crisis. In the landmark apostolic exhortation, a form of papal writing, Francis says that “avoiding an increase of a tenth of a degree in the global temperature would already suffice to alleviate some suffering for many people.”

“Laudate Deum” is a follow-up to the pope’s 2015 encyclical on climate change, known as “Laudato Si’,” which lamented the exploitation of the planet and cast the protection of the environment as a moral imperative. When it was released, “Laudato Si’” was viewed as an extraordinary move by the head of the Catholic Church to address global warming and its consequences.

Nearly a decade later, the pope’s message has taken on new urgency.

In “Laudate Deum,” Francis says that “the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed.”

The pope does not shy away from the responsibility of oil and gas companies, saying new fossil fuel exploration only further contributes to the climate crisis. “[W]hatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention,” he writes.

Francis takes aim at policy decisions in the West that are hindering aggressive action on climate change. In calling for nations to do more, he writes that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.”

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The pope also calls out the coming United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP28, which is being held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in the United Arab Emirates.

Activists have voiced concerns about the UAE as a host nation, saying they fear negotiations could be watered down because the country is a major oil exporter.

Francis’ “Laudate Deum” similarly highlights the outsize influence of the fossil fuel industry in the UAE, writing that “gas and oil companies are planning new projects there, with the aim of further increasing their production.”

The pope says he hopes COP28 proceedings produce “binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.”

Pope Francis has in recent years been outspoken about the need for urgent climate action. In 2021, he addressed a gathering of youth climate activists, thanking them for their vision and encouraging them to continue their efforts “for the good of humanity.”

“It is said that you are the future, but in these matters, you are the present. You are those who are making the future today, in the present,” he said at the time.

Denise Chow

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.