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Climate change

Fossil fuel and finance CEOs take first steps to climate action at Vatican summit

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Mary Robinson joins Pope Francis at the 2nd Vatican Energy Transition Dialogue in June 2019. (Photo: Vatican Media)

On 13-14 June, Mary Robinson joined the second Vatican Energy Transition Dialogue convened by Pope Francis to demand bold and urgent climate action from leaders of the world’s fossil fuel and investment companies.


Mary Robinson addressed chief executives of the world’s leading fossil fuel and investment companies at a meeting in the Vatican convened by Pope Francis, where they committed to support a price on carbon and transparency in climate risk disclosure.

This was the second Vatican energy transition dialogue, held at the Casina Pio IV – the building where Galileo had been tried for heresy in 1633, a powerful symbol of how far the Catholic Church has shifted in its attitude to scientific truth over the centuries.

Speaking as the Chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson urged the participants to take bolder and more radical steps to end fossil fuel extraction and combustion, to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

She challenged the energy leaders:

“What could be more opportunistic and cynical than still seeking to exploit and extract fossil fuel reserves from under the ground, when the scientific evidence is abundantly clear that we need to end all combustion of fossil fuels by 2050 if we are to have any hope of keeping global temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees Celsius?”

She specifically called on the participants to take two key steps to move to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient economy:

  • A firm and clear commitment to halt any and all plans for future fossil fuel extraction, whether through drilling, mining, fracking or any other forms;
  • Develop a comprehensive, transparent database of all existing fossil fuel assets and reserves.

Pope Francis also urged the energy and finance industries to show a greater sense of urgency and ambition in the face of climate change:

“Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.”

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Participants at the Vatican Energy Transition Dialogue consider the final communique.


The final agreed communiqués on carbon pricing and climate disclosures reflected the spirit of compromise that prevailed in the meeting, but did not refer to the 1.5 degrees target invoked by Pope Francis or the wider goals of the Paris Agreement.

Delicate and extensive negotiations around the texts reflected the diverse and occasionally conflicting perspectives within and between the fossil fuel industry, the investment community and civil society, particularly on how to balance climate action with economic growth.

They highlighted a potentially alarming disconnect between the discourse of the climate movement, where 1.5 degrees is now seen as an absolutely essential target, and that of an industry that prefers vaguer, non-committal goals and still argues that there is a future for some form of fossil fuel production and generation.

But the Pope’s moral message was clear: time is running out, and inaction, equivocation and obfuscation would amount to a betrayal of current and future generations:

“We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritising short-term economic benefits… today a radical energy transition is needed to save our common home.”

One positive outcome was a proposal by the CEO of one leading oil and gas company to develop sector-wide coalitions of industrial and financial stakeholders – for example, in shipping or aviation – to address climate issues in a systemic, holistic and sustainable manner.

Mary Robinson proposed this should be taken up and presented to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit to be held in New York around the UN General Assembly on 23 September, as an example of the innovation and expertise of industry being brought to bear on a truly global challenge.

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