Laudate Deum: Definitive call for climate action

October 11, 2023

Laudate Deum (LD) brings a detailed call of Pope Francis to address the climate crisis within a specific timeline for climate action.

Recalling his message in Laudato Si’“I wanted to share with all of you, my brothers and sisters of our suffering planet, my heartfelt concerns about the care of our common home. Yet, with the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point. In addition to this possibility, it is indubitable that the impact of climate change will increasingly prejudice the lives and families of many persons. We will feel its effects in the areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migrations, etc.” (LD, 2)

The document is classified as an apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum is a pastoral message by the pope written directly for Catholics to make clear commitments on climate change, this time to pressure the upcoming COP 28 event in Dubai.

The document has six key elements: 1. The Global Climate Crisis; 2. A Growing Technocratic Paradigm; 3. The Weakness of International Politics; 4. Climate Conferences: Progress and Failures; 5. What to Expect from COP28 in Dubai?; 6. Spiritual Motivations. 

Global climate crisis 

The clear and present danger is undeniable, Pope Francis says “the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident…”; this time confronting the climate deniers and even green-washing climate apologists. The exhortation maximizes the ­latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings and reports, re-enforcing the message of Laudato Si’ with scientific data on the climate crisis. 

He refers to climate change as a global reality that must be addressed seriously by politicians, business leaders, and institutions. His concerns for the climate crisis always have implications for social injustice, that this has affected the poor and will have severe impacts on jobs and livelihood.

He clearly repudiates the usual blame game on the poor, richer countries, or high-polluting countries not assuming full responsibility for the crisis, he says “richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population, and that per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones”. (LD 9)

He highlights the human origin of climate change by introducing the word “anthropic”, he illustrates clearly the human impacts as analyzed and presented by scientific reports. In Laudato Si’, he mentions the ‘tragic consequence of unchecked human activity…’ (LS, 4)  and in the document Querida Amazonia he states ‘the great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity…(QA, 54).

Still, in the Laudato Si’ encyclical, he identifies the following Anthropocene-related references, namely: tyrannical anthropocentrism, distorted anthropocentrism, modern anthropocentrism, excessive anthropocentrism, and misguided anthropocentrism; providing an understanding of the human origin of the climate crisis.

Thus, he says “it is verifiable that specific climate changes provoked by humanity are notably heightening the probability of extreme phenomena that are increasingly frequent and intense.” (LD, 5)

Advancing to Protect Nature

Pope Francis presents a clear manifestation of his ecological message that as faith communities we need to commit “the world that surrounds us is not an object of exploitation, unbridled use and unlimited ambition” (LD, 25).

Thus, nature must be protected from technological advancement and human greed, he says clearly that “it is not strange that so great a power in such hands is capable of destroying life, while the mentality proper to the technocratic paradigm blinds us and does not permit us to see this extremely grave problem of present-day humanity.”

The technocratic paradigm is an archetype found in business, economics, and technological advancement, cultivating a limitless attitude in the hope of unlimited progress. This paradigm, however, is a purely utilitarian attitude that will entirely exhaust the planet and hasten ecological destruction. 

COP28 Dubai question

The objective intent of the exhortation may appear to give a clear message that the Vatican (with its voting capacity acquired only in the last COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh – 2022, prior to its observer status in the previous Climate conferences) is serious with its call for accountability to make a concrete action on energy transition. Pope Francis says ‘if there is sincere interest in making COP28 a historic event that honors and ennobles us as human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they are efficient, obligatory, and readily monitored.’ (LD, 59) 

In many Conference of Parties (COP) meetings in the past, Christian groups and prominently the Catholics@COP have consistently called for just energy transition and detailed ‘loss and damage mechanisms, and yet derided by many lobbyists and negotiators during climate conferences.

Pope Francis has seen positively the protagonists’ role of climate activists and environmentalists in many climate actions.

In the Philippines, the ‘Climate Justice Walk’ has started, climate activists making a journey from Manila to Tacloban to pay tribute to all lives impacted by this climate disaster, especially during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, thereafter the climate pilgrimage will pursue a longer journey to Dubai in time for COP28.

Relevance of the document

In this exhortation Pope Francis is highly critical of the weakness of international politics and climate conferences, clearly indicating much of the failures than the outcomes, indicating progress the least.

It can be recalled that during the COP21 climate talks in Paris, this was his message prior to the signing of the Paris Agreement: “It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects […] I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and ‘transformational’ agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.”

Some of these terms appeared in equivalent terms in Laudate Deum. Pope Francis’ own reluctance with international bodies and governments, was expressed during the COP25 in Madrid (2019), he says “we must seriously ask ourselves if there is the political will to allocate with honesty, responsibility and courage, more human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, as well as to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations who suffer from them the most.” Thus, we can ask the following relevant questions:

What is the Impact of the Document on International Bodies? While clearly indicating that many conferences have failed, and with ripple effects for failing humanity, and nature; Pope Francis suggests an involvement process, involving civil societies and even people impacted by the climate crisis to address climate change—it calls for involvement on the part of all (LD, 58). On the other hand, discouraging <…> multilateralism with a world authority concentrated in one person or in an elite with excessive power: ‘When we talk about the possibility of some form of world authority regulated by law, we need not necessarily think of a personal authority’ <…> (LD, 35), and ‘to support institutions in order to preserve the rights of the more powerful without caring for those of all’ (LD, 43); at the same time encouraging <…> a new sensitivity towards the more vulnerable and less powerful… It is another way of encouraging multilateralism for the sake of resolving the real problems of humanity, securing before all else respect for the dignity of persons, in such a way that ethics will prevail over local or contingent interests <…> (LD, 39)

What is the Impact of the Document on the Faith Communities? The solidarity of faith communities is important to address the climate crisis, he says in the document ‘God has united us to all his creatures’ (LD, 66), and the richness of Christian faith from biblical sources to greening practices as conveyed in Laudato Si’ can contribute to the global call for climate action: “in a humbler but more fruitful way” (LD, 68). He models Jesus as a reference to commune with people and nature, describing him with ‘tenderness…for all the beings’ (LD, 1), and somebody ‘in constant touch with nature’ (LD, 64). Nonetheless, Pope Francis dares to encourage us: ‘the mere fact that personal, family and community habits are changing is contributing to greater concern about the unfulfilled responsibilities of the political sectors and indignation at the lack of interest shown by the powerful’ (LD, 71), more transformative than what is done by political and business actors.

As we have seen the progress being made by faith communities globally on climate action, smaller and yet determined efforts in dioceses, parishes, and academic institutions—faith communities can make a difference.  Thus, it is important that we make real changes, that can be done in a transversal manner, institutional and personal changes. Pope Francis says ‘the need to realize that there are no lasting changes without cultural changes, without a maturing of lifestyles and convictions within societies, and there are no cultural changes without personal changes’ (LD, 70).

Brother Jaazeal Jakosalem, OAR, is a Filipino Laudato Si’ reader. A member of Pusyon Kinaiyahan, an environmental group in the Visayas. He is currently based in Germany as a member of PCPR-Europe, working for the Philippine campaigns related to the protection of human rights.

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