Pope Francis, addressing top oil company executives, said on Saturday that the world must convert to clean energy and warned that climate change risked destroying humanity.
“Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation,” he told the high-profile group at the end of a secretive two-day conference in the Vatican.
He said climate change was a challenge of “epochal proportions”, adding that the world needed to come up with an energy mix that combated pollution, eliminated poverty and promoted social justice.
The unprecedented conference, held behind closed doors at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, brought together oil executives, investors and Vatican experts who, like the pope, back scientific opinion that climate change is caused by human activity and that global warming must be curbed.
“We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected. If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger … the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it,” the pope said.
“But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels. Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”
According to Vatican News, the 40 participants at the conference, called “Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home”, included senior executives of ExxonMobil, Eni, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Equinor and Pemex among others.
The news agency said Pope Francis concluded his speech, saying: “There is no time to lose: We received the Earth as a garden-home from the Creator; let us not pass it on to future generations as a wilderness”.
The pope’s latest push for clean energy came after environmentalists and aid agencies urged oil executives to heed his repeated warnings about global warming.
Pope Francis wrote a major document on protecting the environment from global warming in 2015. In the encyclical, called “Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home”, Francis, the first pope from a developing nation, called for policies to drastically reduce polluting gases, saying technology based on fossil fuels “needs to be progressively replaced without delay”.
The oil and gas industry has come under growing pressure from investors and activists to play a bigger role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet goals set out in a 2015 climate agreement signed in Paris.
Companies are betting on increased demand for gas, the least polluting fossil fuel, and to a lesser extent on renewable power such as wind and solar to meet global targets of net zero emissions by the end of the century.
“Oil CEOs would do well to find common cause with the pope and ensure that their skilled staff and deep balance sheets are deployed to ensure that business is a force for good,” said Nigel Topping, head of We Mean Business, a non-profit coalition which works with businesses to promote action on climate change.
As severe weather events hit least developed countries hardest, many investors were demanding that companies take heed of the Paris targets, he told Reuters.
“If energy companies are serious about caring for our common home, they need to take the pope’s advice and hurry up with shifting their priorities – and therefore their money – from fossil fuels to renewables,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Catholic aid agency CAFOD in London.