UNFCCC 28 In Dubai (November 30 – December 12, 2023)

An article by: Luciano Larivera
Considerations regarding apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum on climate crisis

The Roman Pontiff published a new document of the ordinary social teaching of the Catholic Church – the apostolic exhortation “Laudate Deum on the climate crisis”: on the feast day of his Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy and “political saint” (see his mission to the Sultan in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade).

True Catholic Teaching

Apostolic exhortation is one of the “formats,” in which the Pope develops his ordinary teaching on matters of faith and morals; it does not have the “dignity” of an encyclical, but its value remains primary and universal. The term “ordinary” must be understood in the sense of “establishing order,” “common for everyone,” and not in the worst sense (“something banal”). Think about the meaning of the adjective “ordinary” that goes after the university title “professor.”

Moreover, the Pontiff himself (see numerous footnotes) emphasizes the continuity of Laudate Deum (“Praise God,” LD) with his two social encyclicals Laudato sì (“Praise Be to You,” May 24, 2015) and Fratelli tutti (“All Brothers,” October 3, 2020). In addition, the very Evangelii gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel,” November 24, 2013) on the proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world (quoted in note 43 LD) is also an apostolic exhortation. And it contains Francis’s methodological manifesto.

As a “document of the ordinary teaching,” where all Catholics (adults) are called to show respect for reason and will, they are obliged to read and reflect on the Laudate Deum (also because it is not long). And they will have to abandon any denial and confusion about the catastrophic environmental consequences of the greenhouse effect caused by human activities and therefore mobilize together to participate in politics. So at least, let them have fun reading. Here is the text in 8 languages.

The following is a re-presentation of the document, not a summary. The following words are intended to highlight what this document radically is, in its depth: the teaching of “political theology” in the sense of critical (rather than dogmatic-religious) thinking about modernity. Francis writes about the “ethical thorn” (see LD 29). And this is because the Laudate Deum is addressed to “all people of good will”; and because the social teaching of the Popes has always offered the international community (at least understood as states and multilateral institutions) a platform of practical rationality, on which security and general well-being, i.e., sustainable peace, could be promoted.

By the way, this apostolic exhortation seamlessly cites the reports of two international organizations, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and UNEP (UN Environment Program) as the basis of the Petrine teaching school and reminds, by renewing them, of climate agreements.

Unfortunately, the climate crisis is not really an issue that interests great economic powers

To People of Good Will

The Laudate Deum is addressed to people of good will. Primarily to those whose will matters, that is, to those who have political authority or other forms of power. This is a call to those who can act to take action. In the near future: to the next Convention of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Pact (COP28, Dubai, November 30 – December 12), which is the subject of chapters four and five of the six, covering 73 points.

The (non-)problem is this: “Unfortunately, the climate crisis is not really an issue that interests the great economic powers, who are concerned with making the most profit at the least cost in the shortest possible time” (LD, 13).

This means that much of the world economy, with its private or state capitalist logic, is moving away from politics and depoliticizing international society. In other words, these economic powers (states and private actors) use technology (digital, etc.) and techniques (especially administrative, bureaucratic, managerial) only for private interests. At the same time, the dictates of environmental (on the health of the climate and biosphere) and social sciences (on the health of humanity) do not guide the political agenda because it is guided by capitalist logic.

But the politicization of capitalist logic, that is, turning it into an absolute (if not deifying it as a life saver), is not politics. At least it’s apolitical. But it is often anti-politics, depoliticizing, because it is a function of increasing the wealth and power of those who already enjoy it, as well as a few new entrants. Moreover, if politics is only the prerogative of the elite (which legitimizes itself with vain and false meritocratic principles, if they are absolutized, or, worse yet, with violence), then all the more it is not politics. According the Pope’s reasoning, we are talking about the predominance of the technocratic paradigm to which politics delegates its actions.

The technocratic paradigm is ideological because it is not legitimated in terms of “saving” everyone in the face of climate change

Anti-Political Technocratic Paradigm

Unfortunately, the technocratic paradigm has appropriated the political sphere, attributing the (illusory) principle of regulation of the planetary res publica (“public property”) to the national, regional, and global capitalist market. The technocratic paradigm could be trying to bring order to chaos or trying to contain it. But while it is not a political paradigm that primarily involves the participation of peoples and their legitimate representatives, it serves the preeminent interests of one side. Politics, on the other hand, attempts to reconcile ongoing social conflict without destroying the legitimate interests of the parties. Therefore, there is no politics in the strict sense, if one or more parts dominate and commit violence against others (not to mention if one of these parts consists of unborn human generations).

Therefore, the technocratic paradigm (with elites-only meritocracy) is ideological, because it is not legitimized in terms of “saving” everyone in the face of climate change (and other crises). Actually, it guarantees itself and “feeds monstrously on itself” (LD 21): no common good! And so the Pope intensifies his criticism, both political and ethical: the technocratic paradigm “underlies the current process of environmental degradation” (LD 20) and extends its harmful effects to the poorest segments of the population. This is anti-politics, this is anti-government, this is violence.

Returning to the thoughts of Hannah Arendt (On Violence, 1968), power corresponds to a person’s ability not only to act, but to act concertedly. He belongs to the group and exists only as long as the group remains united. Someone is “in power” if they are put there by a certain number of people to act on their behalf. And for us, not only for Westerners, sovereignty (which is constitutive, political power) belongs to the people, we no longer recognize it and do not endow it either with God or with his only earthly representative. Without a group and without a people, power disappears and is replaced by violence. And when violence is not controlled by the authorities, chaos and civil war conquer, where violence feeds on itself.

Indeed, we are witnessing the unwise exploitation of the planet and the impoverishment of life in all its forms. For this reason, the goal of the technocratic paradigm, beyond any of its and our self-deception, is the end of politics: the subjugation of humanity to the few (even those with digital weapons). (Formal) power should not be confused with (real) might, but might should belong to those who have legitimate power, meaning legitimized by the people in its components that politics itself must identify, protect, and promote.

Then the Pope writes, “We must all rethink the question of human power, its meaning and its limits” (LD 28). Francis does not appeal to the authority of God, but condemns the crisis of politics: “the ethical decline of real power” that is “masked by marketing and false information, useful mechanisms in the hands of those with more resources, in order to influence public opinion through them” (LD 29).

The Pontiff criticizes the triad of power, economics and communication, because it acts in concert, but mystifies human power and ascribes to technology (monetary-financial, digital, and bureaucratic-managerial) the role of the regulatory mechanism of society. And so it manifests itself as a devilish trinity, degrading the dignity of the human person.

The pre-political need to seek the meaning of things is represented by Francis to the conscience of those who exercise power

“Socrates of Moscow”

In this regard, it is extremely important to highlight the pontifical quotation from “Socrates of Moscow” (Vladimir Sergeevich Solovyov, 1853-1900), since “political theology” (in the modern sense, therefore, in the Christian and post-Christian context) can only be ecumenical, Western and Eastern together. The Christian idea of Europe itself is not Westernized, but is pan-European: Jewish, Syrian, Greek, Latin, Germanic, Slavic. Cyril and Methodius are as European as Charlemagne is. Russian culture, in particular, preserves the extraordinary wisdom of peace and non-violence (see N. Valentini, “A Heritage to be Saved”, in Il Regno – Relevance 14/2022, 463-472). This profound theological, spiritual, and mystical heritage should not be mystified or buried, as it contributes to offering people a meaningful and justifiable response to the new European, Western, and world politics.

Here’s what the Pope writes, “This can be repeated today with Solovyov’s irony: ‘The century has advanced so much that it even had the fate of being the last’” (from “Three Dialogues and the Tale of the Antichrist”, Bologna 2021, 256). And Francis immediately adds, “It takes clarity and honesty to realize in time that our strength and the progress we make are turning against us” (LD 28).

The pre-political (not necessarily religious) need to seek the meaning of things is represented by Francis to the conscience of those who exercise (or do not, or poorly) power: “What is the meaning of my life, what is the meaning of my passage on this earth, what is ultimately the meaning of my work and my obligations?” (LD 33). And, a few paragraphs later, the pontiff continues, quoting his Laudato sì (LS 57): “I dare to repeat this question to the powers that be: ‘Why do they want to retain a government today that will be remembered for its failure to intervene in a situation when it was urgent and necessary to do so?’” (LD 60).

This question is not only addressed to the authorities that will participate in COP28. The Pope’s political theology appeals to historical depth, to an understanding of how multilateralism began, developed, and declined. Francis emphasizes, as John XXIII already did in Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, 1963), the need for a world authority regulated by law and endowed with true authority (see LD 34-35). But this means not so much the defense of the subsidiarity principle and the essential contribution of intermediate actors to the collective good. They are not the ones hiding.

Current multilateralism is not only ineffective, but above all it is not the result of a new “constitutionalization” process

Reconfiguration of Multilateralism

The Pope asks to “reconfigure multilateralism” and “recreate it in the light of the new global situation” (LD 37). “Multilateralism from below” is not enough in the face of elite hegemony. This is not simply a matter of “applying pressure,” because “unless citizens control political power – national, regional, and municipal – the fight against environmental damage is simply impossible (LS 179)” (LD 38). This means engaging in politics using power rather than mere influence, i.e., participating in (democratic) processes to gain access to political representation positions.

Unfortunately, current multilateralism is not only ineffective and therefore losing some of its legitimacy and justification, but primarily it is not the result of a new process of constitutionalization that reconfigures the new pact between states. In fact, the current Charter of the United Nations is not only insufficient, but it must respond to a new population of nations and a new historical cycle, a cycle of new multipolarity. This is a factual situation that cannot be avoided, but how can we then recognize it in the new legal framework in the service of policy? Since nations, large and small, are equal subjects of sovereignty, they must together establish and legitimize this new multilateralism.

New multilateralism can only be a political action. It should be. In other words, it must “solve the real problems of humanity, seeking primarily to respect the dignity of people, so that ethics prevails over local or incidental interests” (LD 39). And “this is not about replacing politics” (LD 40). It means that the new role of emerging powers is not legitimized by recognition of their threat or simply by making room for their elites among existing ones, Western or otherwise. This is not politics.

Instead, the recognition of multipolarity with “(returning) powers” is justified and guaranteed, because “they are indeed capable of achieving important results in solving specific problems, as some of them demonstrated during the pandemic” (ibid.). And the Pope notes that the space of politics also includes and integrates any “country, no matter how small, leading to the recognition of multilateralism as an inevitable path” (ibid.). Otherwise, any new multipolarity will always be anti-politics based on the threat and source of violence from the powerful: further self-harm.

The equality of peoples and people is the condition of this new multilateralism, which requires legitimation by a “world constitution” (a concept formulated not so explicitly by the Pope, but by the author). The only task of politics is to create the conditions for all this. It cannot be delegated to other entities (for example, representatives of religions, corporations or civil society, even if associated with them). Only politics allows individuals and groups to transcend themselves in the multiple contexts of the planet. We have no other human activity for this purpose; the rest is very useful, but auxiliary. Except for war, which wants to eliminate conflict by eliminating its counterparts.

We need a new procedure for making and legitimizing decisions at the global level

Constitutionalization and Democratization of Multipolarity

The Pope does not shy away from diplomacy. But this is not enough: “The old diplomacy, also in crisis, continues to demonstrate its importance and necessity. It has not yet succeeded in creating a model of multilateral diplomacy that responds to the new configuration of the world, but if it is able to reformulate itself, it will have to become part of the solution, because even centuries of experience cannot be thrown away” (LD 41). But the new diplomacy must also emerge from concerted political action, rather than being an anti-politics representing the interests of the powerful or the international and technocratic elites of the moment.

As a result, the Pope warns, “The world is becoming so multipolar and, at the same time, so complex that a different framework is needed for effective cooperation. It is not enough to think about the balance of power, but also about the need to respond to new challenges and respond through global mechanisms to environmental, health, cultural, and social problems, primarily to strengthen respect for the most basic human rights, social rights, and care for our common home. It is a matter of establishing universal and effective rules in order to guarantee this global protection” (LD 42). This is the process of planetary constitutionalization.

For this reason, the Pope repeats, “All this presupposes the introduction of a new procedure for the decision-making process and the legitimation of such decisions, since the one that was created several decades ago is insufficient and does not seem to be effective. In this context, space is needed for conversation, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution, oversight, and, in short, a kind of greater ‘democratization’ in the global sphere to express and accommodate different situations. It will no longer be useful to support institutions that protect the rights of the strongest without affecting the rights of all” (LD 43).

Thus, tracing the successes and failures of climate conferences, the Pope, taking into account the observation in Laudato sì (167), writes – but this statement can be generalized to all global commons, including the maintenance of peace, “The agreements had a low level of implementation, because adequate mechanisms for monitoring, periodic verification, and punishment for non-compliance were not created. The stated principles still require effective and flexible means of practical implementation” (LD 52). Moreover, “international negotiations cannot make significant progress due to the positions of countries that put their own national interests above the global common good. Those who suffer the consequences that we try to hide will remember this lack of conscience and responsibility (LS 169)” (LD 52). How can we not think about the unfulfilled and unscrupulous protocols of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)?

US per capita emissions are twice that of China

Give to Caesar, to Man, and to God What is Theirs

The Pope does not argue on the basis of apocalyptic diagnoses (see LD 17). However, politics is at a “real turning point” because, due to growing climate disasters (and the escalating war in Ukraine), we face the risk of unexpected turning points, accelerations, cumulative and inertial effects (at least in their magnitude: the so-called “avalanche effect”). They will lead to political chaos on such a scale that fragile multilateral institutions will be overwhelmed and submerged. Humanity has never had so much power, but without politics it will not be able to use it properly (see LS 23).

Politics cannot be replaced with technical solutions (administrative and market) that risk misleading and distracting attention. The problems lie deeper. With the risk of reaching “critical points” of “no return” (due to the climate-ecological disasters and nuclear conflicts listed by the Pope), correction is not enough. When the Pope asks everyone to follow “the path of reconciliation with the world that accepts us” (LD 69), he uses a term that should be understood in the strict sense: “reconciliation” is synonymous with exodus liberation, high politics, global constitutional law. And in this context, it is necessary to rethink the presence and actions of “radical” groups participating in climate conferences. They occupy a void in international (and often national) politics that is unable to reconcile and come to terms with itself, because politics is in a crisis of (self-)confidence.

This reconciliation is also spiritual. Today, finally, we “are forced to admit that only ‘situational anthropocentrism’ can be supported.” That is, to admit that human life is incomprehensible and unviable without other beings. In reality, “all of us beings in the universe are united by invisible bonds and form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion that motivates us to sacred, loving, and humble respect (LS 89)” (LD 67). Through this anthropology, politics must reconcile and come to terms. That is, if we assume that major decisions in regional and international politics are binding, irreplaceable, and non-delegable. It is unthinkable to govern a country under a permanent state of emergency or to abandon  politics based on exceptions; this would only mean abandoning the ineffective technocratic paradigm. We need a paradigm shift, or rather a return to a paradigm of politics without empty delegations towards economism, legal formality, soporific propaganda, or geopolitical comparison.

The Pope doesn’t take anything for himself. Just the ethical thorn of political theology. He gives to Caesar what belongs to Caesar: but does Caesar want to use or deprive himself of political power? The Roman Pontiff (and also the Patriarch of the West) writes specifically to the Caesars of the West and their followers, approaching the conclusion, “When we consider that per capita emissions in the United States are about twice the per capita emissions of China and about seven times the average for the poorest countries, we can say that a large-scale change in the irresponsible lifestyles associated with the Western model will have significant long-term consequences. Thus, having made the necessary political decisions, we would be on the path of mutual care” (LD 72).

Finally, saying goodbye, Francis gives to God what is from God: “Praise God” is the title of this letter. Because the person who pretends to replace God becomes the greatest danger to himself” (LD 74). However, politics requires a “miracle,” an evolutionary leap for the human race: a new constitution of international political power for a new effective multilateralism capable of taking on the emerging opportunities and responsibilities of a new multipolarity. And in specific political terms, as proof of “good will,” to the authorities who will negotiate COP28, we ask and pray with the Pope: “Let them be strategists, capable of thinking about the common good and the future of their children,” and not about the short-term interests of some country or company. Let them thus show the nobility of politics, and not its shame” (LD 60).


Luciano Larivera