Catholic officials announced on Tuesday plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference to be hosted at the Vatican later this month, the latest in Pope Francis’ faith-rooted campaign to raise awareness about global warming.
The summit, which is scheduled for April 28 and entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” will draw together a combination of scientists, global faith leaders, and influential conservation advocates such as Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is slotted to offer the opening address, and organizers say the goal of the conference is to “build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable.”
“[The conference hopes to] help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond,” read a statement posted on several Vatican-run websites.
According to a preliminary schedule of events for the convening, attendees hope to offer a joint statement highlighting the “intrinsic connection” between caring for the earth and caring for fellow human beings, “especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.”
The gathering will undoubtedly build momentum for the pope’s forthcoming encyclical on the environment, an influential papal document expected to be released in June or July. The Catholic Church has a long history of championing conservation and green initiatives, but Francis has made climate change a fixture of his papacy: he directly addressed the issue during his inaugural mass in 2013, and told a crowd in Rome last May that mistreating the environment is a sin, insisting that believers “safeguard Creation … Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” The Vatican also held a five-day summit on sustainability in 2014, calling together microbiologists, economists, legal scholars, and other experts to discuss ways to address climate change.
The upcoming conference and the release of the encyclical could also have political implications here in the United States. The pope is scheduled to stop by Washington, D.C. during his trip to America in September, where he plans to address a joint session of Congress. Some conservatives have been critical or dismissive of the pontiff’s support for green policies, but if Francis, who is wildly popular among both Catholic and non-Catholic Americans, brings up climate change during his remarks, it could be an uncomfortable moment for many lawmakers: The Center for American Progress Action Fund estimates that 169 members of the 114th Congress (or 56 percent) have expressed doubts about the science behind climate change, 35 of whom identify as Catholic.