Pope Francis to release first-ever papal letter on global warming

Pope Francis(Photo: Reuters)

Pope Francis is expected to issue the first-ever papal letter regarding climate change in 2015, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the end of November.

Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences Chancellor Bishop Marcelo Sorondo announced last weekend that the pope wishes to influence the world's discussion on global warming, and lobby for committed action across nations.

"Our academics supported the pope's initiative to influence next year's crucial decisions," Bishop Sorondo told Catholic development agency Cafod. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion."

Pope Francis will visit Tacloban City, Philippines in March – the capital of the Eastern Visayas devastated by typhoon Haiyan in 2012. His groundbreaking letter on climate change is expected to follow that visit, and will be sent to 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests around the world. The church leaders will then distribute the message to their parishioners.

Catholic Climate Covenant Executive Director Dan Misleh described the significance of the upcoming papal letter.

"It is the first time ever an encyclical letter has been written just on the environment," he explained. "The faithful, including bishops, and all of us who adhere to the Catholic faith, are supposed to read it and examine our own consciences."

He described a papal letter as "among the highest levels of teaching authority for a pope," and pointed out that they "always make news, because they are rare and comprehensive."

Vatican sources say that Francis will also meet with government and faith leaders at the UN General Assembly meeting in September in New York to discuss climate change and anti-poverty goals.

The pontiff spoke out about the environment in an October speech.

"The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth," Pope Francis said. "Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness."