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Pope Francis rejects carbon credits as a solution to climate change

The Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorised to loot her.”

That’s the Guardian’s translation of part of the second paragraph of the Pope’s 192-page draft encyclical. It was leaked to L’Espresso magazine earlier this week.

The final version of the encyclical is to be published tomorrow. Pope Francis will call for changes in lifestyle and consumption to address the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem”.

Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot asks why defenders of the living world are so ineffective. One answer, he argues, is “a failure of emotional honesty”:

I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has a hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.
Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.

As an atheist (with Buddhist tendencies), I have a long list of issues about which I disagree with the Pope. I might start with his claim that God placed goods on the earth. Monbiot lists just two matters on which he “disagrees profoundly” with the Pope (equal marriage and contraceptives) but adds,

Pope Francis … reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our well-being. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.

In his draft encyclical, Pope Francis is very clear in rejecting carbon credits as a solution to climate change. Here is paragraph 171:

And here’s a rough translation:

The strategy of selling “carbon credits” could give rise to a new form of speculation and would not help to reduce the global emission of polluting gases. This system seems to be a quick and easy, with the appearance of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way implies a radical change to the circumstances. Indeed, it may be a device that helps support the super-consumption of certain countries and sectors.

UPDATE – 18 June 2015: Here’s the official translation of paragraph 171 (the Italian version of paragraph 171 is exactly the same as the leaked version, above):

The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.


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  1. One of your most important pieces yet. Thanks for publishing it.

  2. This is one world leader that really doesn’t care who he upsets. The rich countries offsetting their ongoing consumption via projects in poor countries is however a transfer of wealth and the positives that can come out of that is not acknowledged. However, offsetting is, as we all recognise, so much easier than changing how we live and work. I don’t think a simple three hail Mary’s and limited personal guilt is going to cut it this time; the man is asking for fundamental change in how the world economy works. Radical stuff!

  3. WOW!
    Does this mean the Vatican will now become a paid up member of the fossil fuels divestment movement – as requested by multi-faith groups last year?
    Go on Frank! Divest, divest, divest!

  4. Excelent, timely and useful message! Let´s hope that the whole catholic, apostolic and roman Church will adopt and disseminate it among its parishioners.

    For all catholics the Pope´s voice is Good´s voice, thus, they should start questionning their current negotiating positions under the climate change convention, centered on carbon credits, mainly on REDD. The whole negotiating process has been based on the economic rationality, which has supported the ineffective carbon market-based mechanisms to address climate change.

  5. @Liz Crosbie (#2) – Thanks for this comment. You write that,

    The rich countries offsetting their ongoing consumption via projects in poor countries is however a transfer of wealth and the positives that can come out of that is not acknowledged.

    Almost half of all CDM projects are in China. India is second with just over 20%. Followed by Brazil. Are these really the countries where wealth transfer from North to South is most needed?

    This graph from the UN’s CDM website shows the distribution of CDM projects (click for a larger version):

    In 2013, Reuters reported that a total of US$315 billion had been invested in CDM projects. How much of this money reached communities in the countries where the projects took place? How much of the money went to the consultants and project developers?

    By the way, the headline of the 2013 Reuters article was, “U.N. carbon offset market seen ‘in a coma’ for years after Warsaw”. And the current price of CER futures (Dec 2015) on the EU ETS is €0.39.

  6. This is a radical and fundamental move or change suggested by the Pope. Excellent but will take time. Can we perceive carbon credit and REDD+ is a step to that way, while of course improving the credit mechanism?

  7. I assume that having said all this he will no longer be flying just himself round in a private hire 737/747.