`Humanity at risk` : climate scientist Schellnhuber speaks at the Vatican

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Pope Francis’ much anticipated encyclical “Laudato Si” on inequality and the environment mirrors not only religious insights but also the findings of climate science. “Not the poor but the wealthy are putting our planet, and ultimately humanity, at risk,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), at the presentation of the encyclical in the Vatican today. “Those who profited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels and contributed least to greenhouse-gas emissions are hit hardest by global warming impacts, unless we strongly reduce emissions.” Schellnhuber is the only scientist who has been invited to speak, alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson.

In the run-up to the encyclical, Schellnhuber participated in a number of workshops organized by the highly renowned Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which made him its member on Wednesday. The document now issued by the leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world is expected to be an important signal on the road to a global agreement on emissions reductions and eventually a full decarbonization of the world economy which will be negotiated by governments at the world climate summit in Paris later this year.

“The atmosphere, heaven above us all, is a global common – yet it is used as a waste-dump for greenhouse gases by the few,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist of PIK and director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. “The Pope is making history in highlighting this. If we want to avoid dangerous climate change, we have to restrict the use of the atmosphere by putting a price on CO2 emissions. This would generate revenues which could be used to improve access to clean water or education, especially for the poor.”

Along with other international experts, Edenhofer has been consulted by the Vatican in the run-up to the encyclical. He was joint leader of a recent project on climate justice and development, which resulted in a number of conferences at the Vatican. On the evening of 18 June, he will discuss the encyclical in Berlin at an event hosted by the Catholic Academy and the Deutsche Bischofs-Konferenz. On 1 July, he will debate the Pope's messages with Cardinal Turkson and author Naomi Klein ('Capitalism versus Climate') in Rome.

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