As 350.0rg leads a campaign asking Pope Francis to divest Vatican assets from fossil fuels, the Vatican’s newly appointed economic manager Cardinal George Pell is likely resist divestment.
Pope Francis has publicly acknowledged humanity’s role in climate change stating in December 2014 that “the time to find global solutions is running out.”
Pope Francis is planning to release an encyclical on the environment in the coming months. Encyclicals according to Neil Ormerod, Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University is the most authoritative document a pope can issue.
However, Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of climate change is likely to be opposed within his own ranks, in particular by Cardinal George Pell who was appointed in February 2013 to be the first Cardinal-Prefect of the Vatican’s newly created Secretariat for the Economy. As part of his role Pell is responsible for the Vatican budget and investments.
Cardinal Pell is a well- known climate change sceptic. In October 2011 he delivered a lecture on climate change in which he argued that “the cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on “the big polluters” but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only ever be partially successful. Will the costs and the disruption be justified by the benefits?” Pell then stated that “we must be sure the solutions being proposed are valid, the benefits are real and the end result justifies the impositions on the community.”
Pell’s lecture delved into history, in particularly the Middle Ages when temperatures warmed. But he left no doubt about his views on carbon, stating “as greenhouse operators recognize, plants produce better fruit and flowers when CO2 is increased to 1000ppmv. Californian orange groves are now thirty per cent more productive than 150 years ago and some of this improvement is attributable to the additional CO2 in the air. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is plant food. Animals would not notice a doubling of CO2 and obviously plants would love it. In the other direction, humans would feel no adverse effects unless CO2 concentration rose to at least 5000 ppmv, or almost 13 times today’s concentration, far beyond any likely future atmospheric levels”.
He also condemned climate change activists who he described as “not merely zealous but zealots.”
Pell was no stranger to controversy in Australia but his role as Cardinal-Prefect will give him direct opportunity to influence the investment policies of the Vatican, including its pension investments.
The Vatican is said to have assets of around $4.5 billion through the Vatican bank Istituto per le Opere di Religione, which invests primarily in fixed interest investments and equities.
Whilst restructuring the Vatican’s investments, Pell will also need to heed the Pope’s views on investment. At a conference in 2014 Pope Francis stated ”it is important that ethics once again play its due part in the world of finance and that markets serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity. It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.”
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment will raise a question as to how the Vatican approaches its own investments. Whilst Cardinal Pell is responsible for the Vatican’s investments it is unlikely that the Vatican will divest from fossil fuels but Pell may come under pressure to invest according to responsible investment practices.
350.Orgs Campaign to Divest the Vatican
One Christian Perspective on Climate Change Cardinal George Pell