Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences Proposes Practical Solutions to Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change

New Declaration from Vatican’s Scientific Body Finds Climate Change Is Existential Threat to Humans and the Earth Unless We Act Fast

Vatican City, Vatican, 9 November 2017 – Scalable and practical solutions exist to help preserve the quality of life of future generations in the face of accelerating climate impacts, and with perhaps a decade left to put these into place, the time for climate change action is now. These are the conclusions of the Declaration issued last week by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, entitled “Our Planet, Our Health, Our Responsibility”.

Noting with concern that “climate change caused by fossil fuels and other human activities poses an existential threat to Homo sapiens and contributes to mass extinction of species,” the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the seven climate change experts leading a key workshop that produced the Declaration called on governments, faith leaders, civic society and other stakeholders to urgently undertake the scalable and practical solutions available to mitigate climate change.

The twelve solutions – which include rapid reductions of short-lived climate pollutants and the development of carbon dioxide removal technologies – are based on a three-lever cooling strategy outlined in the recently published matched pair of reports the Well Under 2 Degrees Celsius: Fast Action Policies to Protect People and the Planet from Extreme Climate Change, authored by a team of 33 prominent scientists and policy experts co-chaired by Professor V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution, Nobel Laureate Mario Molina, and IGSD President Durwood Zaelke, and the peer-reviewed companion paper by Xu & Ramanathan, Well Below 2°C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The strategy elaborated in the two Under 2°C reports and echoed in the Declaration demonstrate how the bending the emissions curves of climate pollutants and successfully limiting global temperature to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels – as global leaders have pledged through the Paris Agreement – can be achieved by pulling three levers:

  • Decarbonizing the global energy system by mid-century;
  • Drastically reducing emissions of short-lived super climate pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and black carbon by 2020;
  • Undertaking atmospheric carbon extraction, which will be needed if CO2emissions do not peak by 2020.

“The world has cumulatively emitted about 2.2 trillion tons of CO2 to date, and there is a 1 in 20 chance that emission beyond this rate presents catastrophic and perhaps even an existential risk” said Professor Ramanathan, lead co-author of the Declaration and both Under 2°C reports. “To put in perspective, how many of us would choose to buckle our grandchildren to an airplane seat if we knew there was as much as a 1 in 20 chance of the plane crashing? With climate change that can pose existential threats, we have already put them in that plane. The good news from our findings is that there is still time to avoid these catastrophic changes.”

“The feasibility of achieving this aggressive three-lever mitigation strategy implemented through the twelve solutions is backed up by numerous living laboratories ranging from cities such as Stockholm to large states like California, the sixth largest economy in the world, that have already embarked on mitigation actions such as 40% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2030 and 50% to 80% reductions in short-lived climate pollutants” said Zaelke. “The multitude of examples from our recent past—further expanded in the reports — provide hopeful cases of humanity’s ability to mobilize to achieve our collective environmental objectives,” he added.


Information on the Vatican workshop held November 2-4, Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility: Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health, is here.

Ramanathan, Molina, & Zaelke, co-chairs, Well Under 2 Degrees Celsius: Fast Action Policies to Protect People and the Planet from Extreme Climate Change, is here.

Xu & Ramanathan, Well Below 2°C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes, is here.