May 17, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Pope Francis likely to join UN climate summit in Glasgow: Kerry

Pope Francis stands at a podium, speaking.
Pope Francis holds a Holy Mass for Myanmar Catholic community Living In Rome on May 16, 2021 in Vatican City, Vatican. Photo: Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Pope Francis, who is a moral leader on climate change, "intends to join" other world leaders at the next round of UN climate talks in Scotland this November, according to John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate change.

Driving the news: Kerry met privately with the Pope on Saturday while on a tour through Europe, and told the press he believes Francis "intends to come."

Yes, but: On video documenting the meeting that Kerry tweeted, the former secretary of state can be heard going further and being more definitive about the Pope's intentions (at about 2 minutes and 21 seconds in).

  • On it he can be heard telling members of his staff that Pope Francis will be there on the first day of the talks, "with other heads of state."
  • "We've been hearing that, so it's nice to have confirmation," one of the staff members replies.
  • "It will be amazing, I'm telling you it will have a profound impact," Kerry says.

Background: The Glasgow meeting is considered crucial for ensuring that the temperature targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement still have a chance of being met, specifically by having countries sign on to much more ambitious emissions cuts through 2030.

  • If Pope Francis does attend, it would be a first for what is known in UN lingo as a Conference of the Parties, or "COP," to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Such meetings typically attract environment ministers, rather than heads of state.
  • However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the summit that resulted in the Paris agreement, but even then, the Pope did not attend. In the past, the Vatican has been represented by other senior officials.

Context: The pope has taken a keen interest in climate change, and COP26 is taking place while the world is at a hinge point on the issue, with emissions still rising despite a global pandemic, with countries running out of time to meet the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

Flashback: In 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the subject, Laudato Si, which lays out his views on the relationship between humanity and nature, and his particular concern for how climate change affects the world's poor and vulnerable nations.

The bottom line: "I think his Holiness speaks with a moral authority that is quite separate. It's unique and we need all the power we can bring to the table," Kerry told the Vatican News.

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