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The Pope Really Wants the World to Do Something About Climate Change and Slavery

The Vatican is convening a two-day conference on climate change and its impacts on income inequality and migration, which the church says lead to human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking.
Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

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Pope Francis isn't letting up on his push for global action on climate change.

Barely a month after releasing a stern critique of capitalism and a call for nations around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Vatican is hosting a high-profile meeting of world leaders this week to discuss two global crises it views as highly interconnected — climate change and modern slavery.


"Today we are facing two tragic emergencies that are related in different ways: the climate change crisis and the new forms of slavery," the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences said ahead of the two-day conference, which began today. "The religious leaders, called to condemn the new forms of slavery, have highlighted the connection between natural and human environment. As a matter of fact, global warming is one of the causes of poverty and forced migration, which are breeding grounds for human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking."

In his 184-page encyclical, released June 18th, Pope Francis said doomsday scenarios could no longer be ignored and that future generations are at risk of inheriting "debris, desolation, and filth" due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Related: Pope Francis Says Earth Is Beginning to Look Like An 'Immense Pile of Filth'

Robert Cowin, a director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said climate change is a moral issue, as well as one about science.

"If you can convince people that the decisions they are making about energy, their personal decisions about greenhouse gases, and how they live their lives are actually affecting people who are less fortunate than them, in another part of the world, I think people will start making different decisions," Crowin told VICE News. "The pope can go a long a way towards helping communicate and articulate a clear message that this really is about helping the less fortunate."


The aim of the two-day conference is to bring subnational leaders, like mayors and governors, as well as United Nations representatives, together to highlight and expand municipal and regional efforts at tackling climate change and developing sustainable economies.

Participants include city leaders from London, Paris, Stockholm, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Tehran, and Sao Paulo, among others. California Governor Jerry Brown is also attending.

The Vatican conference comes ahead of two crucial international events slated for later this year. In September, governments will decide upon a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, ensuring job security and economic growth, promoting gender equality, and tackling climate change, among others. Then, in December, diplomats will converge in Paris to hammer out an international agreement on climate change aimed at keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Age levels.

Related: Any Way You Look at It, This Government Report on Climate Change Is Really Bad News

While progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ramping up renewable energy production on the national level has in many cases been slow going, some cities and regions around the world have achieved significant progress on both counts.

Oslo, for instance, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent since 2013 and aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. Seattle managed to cut its per capita greenhouse gas emissions by one-fifth since 1990, even while the number of jobs grew by 14 percent and the population increased by 23 percent.


In a joint statement, Stian Berger Rosland, the mayor of Oslo, and Ed Murray, Seattle's mayor, emphasized that developing sustainable cities needn't hamper economic growth, as critics of environmental regulations often argue.

"Although significant reductions in carbon pollution require a shift in how we fuel our transportation and energy systems, this need not result in a stagnation of economic progress," the mayors said in a joint statement. "In fact, we see quite the opposite, as old fossil fuel infrastructure is replaced by clean, modern technology."

Watch "On the Line" With Environment Editor Robert S. Eshelman here:

Follow Esha Dey on Twitter: @deyesha