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Big Oil and Pope Francis to meet in Rome to discuss climate change

The Catholic leader has historically tangled with the White House on climate change.

Pope Francis rides on the Popemobile through the crowd of the faithful as he arrives to celebrate his Weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican on May 30, 2018. CREDIT: Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Pope Francis rides on the Popemobile through the crowd of the faithful as he arrives to celebrate his Weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican on May 30, 2018. CREDIT: Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pope Francis will bring together some of the world’s leading fossil fuel executives next week in an effort to further conversations about climate change. The meeting will come mere days after the one year anniversary of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement.

A Vatican source confirmed to Reuters on Friday that the leader of the Catholic Church will convene a number of prominent oil executives in Rome next week. According to Axios, the list of oil investors and producers includes BP CEO Bob Dudley and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock (the world’s largest asset manager). Sources have indicated that representatives from ExxonMobil will be present as well, along with Royal Dutch Shell, Pemex, Eni, and others. Former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is also reported to be joining.

Many of the companies named are currently facing or have faced court cases regarding their role in climate change, including ExxonMobil. At least two states, New York and Massachusetts, are investigating the company for fraud relating to climate change. (Exxon has countered that such suits violate the company’s First Amendment rights.) Exxon and other companies involved in the meeting in Rome have also been linked to efforts funding climate denial and misinformation.

The University of Notre Dame is reportedly assisting in the endeavor but Leo Burke, who heads the climate investing initiative run by the institution’s business school, declined to comment to Axios.

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“All along the way, we have said that any energy-related meeting involving the Vatican and Notre Dame would be a private dialogue among the attendees,” Burke wrote via email.

The Vatican similarly failed to confirm or deny the meeting as of Friday, but Reuters reported that the event will be titled “Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home” and will take place at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Cardinal Peter Turkson, a leading Vatican figure on climate issues, will also reportedly address attendees.

An Argentinian and the first pope from a nation outside of the so-called developed world, Francis has made climate issues a central theme of his tenure in Rome. In 2015, the Catholic leader released “Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home”, an encyclical lambasting capitalism and consumer culture. The six-chapter document centers heavily on climate change while calling for all people to “combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it”.

Francis devoted his first public address while visiting the United States later that year to climate change, encouraging then-President Obama to continue efforts to limit warming. At least one Catholic Republican — Arizona’s  Rep. Paul Gosar — boycotted Francis’ speech to Congress at the time over the pope’s stance on climate change.

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Under President Trump, the United States has moved away from Obama-era climate initiatives. Trump has targeted the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, and national parks and monuments, in addition to pushing fossil fuels over renewable energy alternatives.

In June 2017, Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement, which enjoyed near-unanimous global support at the time of its signing in 2016. That move sparked a head-on collision with the pope, who issued veiled criticisms of Trump and called for other world leaders to stand by the agreement.

“The ‘distraction’ or delay in implementing global agreements on the environment shows that politics has become submissive to a technology and economy which seek profit above all else,” Francis told a group of scientists at the time, including the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

In a later visit to the United States in May 2017, Francis left Trump copies of works on climate change and progressive economics, among other documents published by the pontiff, including “Laudato Si”.

Next week’s meeting indicates that the pope is likely to continue pushing for sustainable climate action with or without the support of the White House. It is unclear what impact the meeting might have given that big oil companies have shown deep-seated resistance to greener energy alternatives, in addition to moves countering climate change more broadly. Nonetheless, BP’s Dudley is reportedly  “looking forward to the Vatican dialogue”, according to spokesman Geoff Morrell.

“He believes gatherings of this kind help develop a better understanding of the energy transition and the best ways for corporations, countries and wider society to participate in it,” said Morrell.