America’s top environmental official has
assured the Vatican that the Pope and Barack Obama are singing from the same
hymnal when it comes to fighting climate change. In a visit to the Vatican,
Gina McCarthy, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
conveyed a message to the Pope that Obama shared his view that fighting
climate change was a moral obligation. “I want him to know that the
president is aligned with him on these issues and that we are taking action
in the United States,” McCarthy told the National Catholic Reporter ahead of
She went so far as to suggest that Obama was “working with the pope” when it
came to climate change. That alliance, between Obama and the pope, followed
from the view that leaders have a moral duty to preserve the earth and
protect those most at risk from the consequences of climate change, McCarthy
said. “I think the most important thing that we can do, working with the
pope, is to try to remind ourselves that this is really about protecting
natural resources that human beings rely on, and that those folks that are
most vulnerable – that the church has always been focused on, those in
poverty and low income – are the first that are going to be hit and impacted
by a changing climate,” she said.
EPA officials said McCarthy used the meeting to applaud the Pope’s efforts
to fight climate change, and to brief the Vatican on Obama’s plan for
cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming. “It was
really about the efforts the US is taking on climate change and the need for
everyone to be involved both domestically and internationally – both to work
with the pope and thank for his efforts on this far,” a spokesperson said.
McCarthy did not meet the pope, but was greeted by a quartet of Vatican
officials, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, the undersecretary for relations
with states and the ministry’s top environmental official, Paolo Conversi as
well as Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the pontifical council for
justice and peace, and his director of environmental affairs, Tebaldo
Vinciguerra. The four officials will help prepare a highly anticipated
encyclical on the environment and climate change, expected to be published
in June or July.
On Saturday, McCarthy was due to tour the Vatican’s solar panels, which are
on top of the Paul VI hall. The pope said earlier this month that climate
change was “mostly” man-made, and he said he hoped the encyclical and a
planned address to the UN in September would push leaders to take more
The EPA administrator was born into an Irish Catholic family from Boston.
Her trip to the Vatican, however, was part of a broader mission of putting
climate change above partisan politics and persuading the American people to
get behind the climate plan.
The pillar of the US climate plan – the first rules cutting carbon pollution
from power plants are due to be finalised this summer. But they are under
attack from Republicans in Congress and industry, who are trying to block or
reduce the emissions cuts.
“One of the challenges that I think we face in the US is that climate change
is very often viewed as a political issue,” McCarthy told reporters ahead of
her meetings. “And environmental issues are not political.” She went on: “I
think we need to get this out of the political arena and get it back to the
arena we work most effectively on: what’s right for our kids, for our
families, for public health, and what solutions do we bring to the table
that are going to address those?”
Obama has no chance of meeting his emissions reductions targets if those
rules are stalled or weakened. US officials and foreign diplomats believe an
attack on those rules would shake international confidence in climate change
negotiations heading towards a conclusion in Paris at the end of the year –
putting the global effort to fight climate change in peril, along with that
of the US.
Over the last 18 months, McCarthy has been doggedly visiting state and local
leaders to try to gin up support for the power plant rules. Last week, she
visited Aspen to mobilise support from the winter sports industry, which
depends on cold weather and snow.
Some conservative sections of the church are opposed to Obama’s power plan.
“Preservation of the environment and promotion of sustainable development?
No problem. But climate change and the blundering malicious environment of
the UN? No thanks. The pope can do better,” wrote Thomas Peters, a writer
for Catholic Vote.