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The Pope, Youth, and the Economy of Francesco

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis published his second encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home. In his letter, the Pope asserts that “Business is a noble vocation directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (LS 129). But, the business has to be integrated with respect for the environment, humanity, and the common good: “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision” (LS 141).

In May 2019, Pope Francis invited young economists, entrepreneurs, and practitioners to gather in Assisi, Italy, to make a pact to build a new, more inclusive, and sustainable economy. The event, Economy of Francesco, was supposed to take place in March 2020. The global pandemic made it necessary to pivot and the event took place as a 3-day, online event in November 2020, where more than 1,500 people from 115 countries participated. At the end of the event, the young economists and entrepreneurs published a final statement, which took the form of a message “to economists, entrepreneurs, political decision-makers, workers, and citizens of the world.”

Pope Francis and Cardinal

The Economy of Francesco (EoF) is a serious and urgent invitation to transform the current economic thinking based on neoclassical economics to one inspired by the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis discusses growing economic inequalities, social unrest, and environmental degradation. The Pope asserts that an intimate relationship exists between the poor and the planet’s fragility, our moral behavior (even our inaction and sins) and ecological degradation. Everything, he emphasizes, is interconnected. He speaks of our hearts needing to undergo an integral, spiritual, and ecological conversion. Following suit, the EoF seeks to have a transformative impact on our current economic and financial methods.

This past September, Pope Francis spoke to approximately 400 young people from 197 countries who met in Milan, Italy to discuss climate change and develop concrete proposals in preparation for COP26. The event was called Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition.

The Economy of Francesco (EoF) is a serious and urgent invitation to transform the current economic thinking based on neoclassical economics to one inspired by the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Echoing his message in Laudato Si, Pope Francis said that “technical and political solutions to humanity’s crises, such as climate change and the environment, are not enough unless there is a culture of care and responsible sharing.” He added that the culture of care needs to be “nurtured through an education process that promotes a cultural model of development and sustainability centered on fraternity and alliance between human beings and the environment…. There must be harmony between people, men and women, and the environment. We are not enemies; we are not indifferent. We are part of this cosmic harmony.”

Student Climate Activists

The Pope believes that “common ideas and projects can help find solutions to energy poverty, putting the care of common goods at the center of national and international policies, promoting sustainable production, circular economy, the sharing of appropriate technologies.”  He encourages “wise decisions based on past years’ experiences to help make a culture of care and responsible sharing possible.” 2

Pope Francis’s invitation to create an Economy of Francesco is having an impact, inspiring young people around the world. Let us hope that the same inspiration spills over the COP26 to bring an integral, spiritual, and ecological conversion to all the leaders and business people worldwide. 

What is COP26?

COP26 is the next annual UN climate change conference, which will take place in Glasgow on November 1-12, 2021. COP stands for Conference of the Parties. The summit will be attended by the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty that came into force in 1994. This year it will be the 26th COP summit. It will be hosted in partnership between the UK and Italy because both countries are sharing the presidency of COP26.

COP26 will be the most prominent summit the UK has ever hosted, with around 30,000 attendees expected to go ahead as an entirely physical event. Many people see it as the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement, when all the signatories to the UNFCC agreed to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The potential impact of COP26 is critical because it is the first time countries are laying out more ambitious goals for ending their contribution to climate change under the Paris Agreement.

COP26 is looking to have a permanent impact by implementing four clear and ambitious goals:

1. To secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

To deliver on these targets, countries will need to:

  • Accelerate the phase-out of coal
  • Curtail deforestation
  • Speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • Encourage investment in renewables

2. To adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The climate is already changing, and it will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects.

At COP26, we need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to:

  • Protect and restore ecosystems
  • Build defenses, warning systems, and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives

3. To mobilize finance

To deliver on our first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilize at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.

International financial institutions must play their part, and we need to work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.

4. To work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

At the COP26, we must:

  • Finalize the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational)
  • Accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society
Alejandro Cañadas is an Associate Professor of Economics at the Bolte School of Business at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland, USA. He is also the director of the Center for Integral Ecology, Economy, and iMpact (CIEEM). Alejandro Cañadas' current research interest is on Social Impact Investment and Integral Ecology ... Read more
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