Laudate Deum: New Arguments to Combat Climate Change

Emilio Chuvieco, DPhil Student in Theology, explains the significance of the recent papal document Laudate Deum for climate change. 

It likely came as a surprise to many that Pope Francis has once again dedicated a papal document, his apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum, to climate change. It seems that the issue was more relevant than they believed. With this new text, it will hopefully become even clearer that the Pope feels, and wants to convey to us, ‘heartfelt concern’ over how we are taking care of the planet we call home.

Francis’ new text follows a similar structure to that of the encyclical Laudato si’, published eight years ago, including the context, roots of the problem and the need for more effective commitment to solve it, and finishing by offering spiritual reasons as to why the Catholic Church must take the ‘environmental question’ seriously.

However, there are two new elements: on the one hand, the text focuses – almost exclusively – on climate change and, on the other, it includes, I believe for the first time in a pontifical document, several quotes extracted from scientific sources. 

The pope’s focus on climate change is justified by the seriousness of the problem, its global impact and the fact that the document was published just several weeks before the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai takes place in November. 

Francis has urged the participating countries to reach binding and effective agreements in the summit: “We must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes” (Laudate Deum, 56).

The second aspect, which underpins the first portion of the document (“The global climate crisis”), will raise eyebrows among the most sceptical for including several quotes from the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report in which scientific evidence of what is happening to our planet is presented. 

Obviously, the existence of climate change and its human-caused origin is not a question of faith, but it seems reasonable for the Pope to present the best scientific findings available on this issue, without going into controversial interpretations. 

It is important to remember that the IPCC does not generate its own research; rather, it gathers in its reports findings published in specialised journals on the various issues it analyses, synthesising the enormous amounts of information available. 

To give an idea, volume one of the three volumes which make up the latest report is dedicated entirely to physics-related aspects of climate change, and includes more than 14,000 references from articles published in scientific journals, amounting to almost 4,000 pages of research.


From this first section the Pope concludes: “Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativise the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident” (Laudate Deum, 5). And he reiterates that the most vulnerable populations suffer the most from its negative consequences. 

The Pope voices disappointment over the scepticism which still exists within some circles: “I feel obliged to make these clarifications, which may appear obvious, because of certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church” (Laudate Deum, 14). 

The noise generated by the media surrounding climate change is undoubtedly one of the main obstacles hindering us from taking the necessary measures to mitigate the problem, as was the case with other social issues like anti-smoking legislation. Effective measures are delayed or abated due to alleged scientific controversy which is more media-created than real.

None of the global weather forecasting centres are sceptical about the existence of climate change.

And although, as in any scientific question, there are uncertainties, the vast majority of scientists accept the overarching narrative on the issue. 

There are certainly no scientific doubts about the increase in global temperatures, nor about the impacts the rise is already having on the Earth; nor about the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which continue to increase despite the ratification of the Paris Agreement eight years ago. There is also no fundamental doubt about the leading role that these emissions play in this warming.

It may seem obvious to point out that CO2 is not a polluting gas; it is a natural gas, essential for life, due to the fact that it retains part of the Earth’s thermal radiation towards outer space, heating the planet to temperatures that allow life. 

Similarly, it may seem obvious to state that increasing the density of this gas results in more thermal energy being retained within the Earth’s system, hence the unprecedented warming effect we are seeing. 

It is not about climate change becoming a matter of faith, but about taking advantage of the best science available to take measures to alleviate the current and future suffering of those most affected by the wide variety of climatic anomalies which it carries and will carry with it. Above all, it is a question of charity towards the poorest on the planet.

‘The technocratic paradigm’

From denial of the problem to blind trust in technological measures, there is no shortage of obstructionist positions which evade adopting more forceful measures to mitigate climate change. 

In line with what Francis calls the ‘technocratic paradigm’, some people place all their trust in a technological solution, which could even involve artificially lowering the temperature of the planet through aerosols or orbital mirrors. The Pope cautions that these measures could imply serious consequences. 

Technology is certainly an ally, but it cannot be the driving force of the change required.

What is required is rather a personal and collective shift, a change in values, leading to a more just social and economic model, where the international community can face this challenge accepting that responsibilities, while varied, are shared.

Indeed, though China is now the main GHG emitter, when it comes to past emissions its contribution is much lower than those of Western countries. In the global negotiations over climate change, it is key that the new world powers (China, India, Brazil, Indonesia…) come on board, but it is also necessary for wealthy countries to reduce their superfluous consumption and contribute to financing mitigation and adaptation measures in the poorest countries.

The Pope notes in Laudate Deum that the transition to low-emission energies is necessary and urgent. It is not about changing an economic model, although where there are excesses this should be done, but rather moving the energy model towards not only cleaner but safer forms of energy. Doing so will also reduce the risk that our dependence on very unstable countries entails, as the invasion of Ukraine has shown. 

We must convince ourselves of the importance of taking care of what is ours: we have no other choice, and there are many human beings, and non-human beings, who depend on it. We must act now, before the process is irreversible. “We need lucidity and honesty in order to recognise in time that our power and the progress we are producing are turning against us” (Laudate Deum, 28).

Recognising we are creatures

The document concludes by highlighting the theological bases of environmental care, which for a believer are the recognition and admiration of Creation, from which springs our responsibility before God to care for it according to his designs, the sacramental worth of the world, image of God and channel of his Grace, and the life of Jesus Christ himself, “who was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attraction full of fondness and wonder” (Laudate Deum, 64). 

God created us from the clay of the earth, not only to show our fragility, but to make us aware of the union between humans and other creatures. Our current environmental knowledge allows us to understand this union even better: we are the fruit of the breath of spirit which God infused into matter that comes from the evolution of other species. We depend on them to breathe and feed ourselves, to praise our Creator together, to know him better.

Caring for our planet does not merely consist in recycling things into their corresponding bins.

Rather it involves a change in values that lead us to live more frugally, taking advantage of the assets we have and reducing the negative environmental impact of our daily activities. But, above all, change implies recognising ourselves as creatures, not as owners of this common home, “for when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies” (Laudate Deum, 73).


This article was originally published in Spanish by the Spanish news agency Aceprensa. A translated and slightly edited version was published by Adamah and republished here with permission.