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Pope to huddle with environmental leaders, activists

Pope Francis
Pope Francis at the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Vatican. Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis is hosting environmental leaders, researchers and activists next week at the Vatican to advocate for more aggressive action on climate change, according to multiple officials and an agenda viewed by Axios.

Why it matters: It’s the latest move in Francis’ strategy pushing a worldwide discussion on climate change and comes just a few weeks after he hosted a very different crowd on the same topic: big oil and investment firm executives.

The details: The Vatican says the upcoming meeting, scheduled for July 5-6, will help set the stage for greater action in upcoming meetings including the Global Climate Action Summit in California, the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Bali, and the year-end COP-24 UN climate summit in Poland. The pope is expected to address attendees on the second day.

Attendees include the following, as of June 28:

  • Patricia Espinosa and Christiana Figueres, the current and previous heads of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Michal Kurtyka, president of the upcoming annual U.N. climate conference in Poland
  • Environmental activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org
  • Researchers Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics
  • Several high-ranking church officials and other religious leaders

Between the lines: The formal name of the conference “Saving Our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth” hints at the importance Pope Francis and the Vatican are giving this topic of discussion. But participants in the talks are more likely to shape climate debate more than change climate policies for companies or governments. Vatican leaders say that does not diminish their role: In an interview, Cardinal Peter Turkson, one of the key organizers, asked: “What will it take for the world to decide once and for all to make a change?”

Yes, but: Worldwide momentum for climate action has slowed since the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate nearly three years ago, despite the pope’s best efforts. And with a mostly like-minded list of participants on hand, there’s a risk the conference could amount to little more than preaching to the converted.

The big picture: The conference comes a few days after the third anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, Francis’ only encyclical to date whose focus was environment and climate change. Laudato Si’ formally made environmental protection Catholic doctrine. Since publishing Laudato Si’ in 2015, the pope has lobbied for stronger climate action in dozens of meetings with individual world leaders, and hosted at least two climate conferences: one last year on sustainable development and the recent meeting with oil executives.

This story has been updated to clarify Hans Joachim Schellnhuber's full name and include his organization's full name.

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