Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change. He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.
As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action. Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most. No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.
Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana. The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.
The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.
For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation. Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.
Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems. When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.
A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat. We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.
President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis. When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs. We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.
That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation. Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.
Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do. We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.