Heaven belongs to us all

With his encyclical "Laudato Si", Pope Francis wants to push climate policy. Ottmar Edenhofer and Brigitte Knopf from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) explain what makes the encyclical revolutionary: The recognition of the atmosphere as a common property.

[Translate to EN:] Foto: Shutterstock / Robert


In an interview with the newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung", MCC Director Ottmar Edenhofer states that in the encyclical "Laudato Si", Pope Francis connects the key ethical challenges of poverty, inequality and climate change. “This is why the encyclical is not an encyclical about the climate, but about justice". Edenhofer particularly points to one sentence of the teaching document: "The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all."

The scientist describes this as "A revolutionary sentence." From the Catholic social teaching derives the social obligation of property. Thus, private property is only legitimate if it is compatible with common welfare. "Now, the Pope applies this principle for the first time to the atmosphere and the oceans. No one has the right to use these at his own discretion "analyzes Edenhofer. 

In a commentary for the newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau", MCC Secretary General Brigitte Knopf states that in this single sentence, the encyclical summarizes the core issue of international climate policy. "If we would all recognize the atmosphere as a global common good as suggested by the Pope, a greater part of the fossil resources would have to remain in the ground." What countries fear in climate policy are the resulting legal and distributional consequences.

Knopf stresses that the encyclical focuses on a "global ecological movement" of actors such as NGOs, cooperatives and associations. "What is clear for the Pope is that without external pressure on politics, there will be no progress in climate policy". To make the joint management of the "Global Commons" possible will become one of the most important tasks of the 21st century. "This task can only be accomplished jointly, when a variety of actors at different levels, from global to regional and local, successfully connect," writes Knopf. "Because what is obvious is that heaven belongs to us all."

In a commentary for the "Tagesspiegel", Knopf describes the public reception of the encyclical. What is highlighted most frequently is the consumer criticism of the Pope or his criticism on the excessive use of social networks like Facebook. "Also, it is often said that the Pope had presented an" eco encyclical". The community of environmentalists already cheers "Habemus climate Pope" and rejoices that Francis wants to phase out coal, oil and gas, "says Knopf. But whichever of these aspects has been emphasized in the public debate so far – only a few have discovered the real secret of the encyclical: the Global Commons.

In the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit", Edenhofer points to the fact that economic activity would only be ethically acceptable when prices would reflect relative scarcities, according to the encyclical. "The fact that the atmosphere only has scarce storage capacities must be signaled to consumers as well as producers and banks," he says. "Various studies carried out at the MCC have shown that the revenue from a price on CO2 emissions can be used to provide the poorest with a clean access to water, sanitation and clean electricity."

On June 22nd, Edenhofer gave a presentation on the topic entitled "Seven Steps to the Encyclical 'Laudato Si' by the Holy Father Pope Francis" at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Holy See. On 1 July, Edenhofer debated the Pope's messages in Rome with author Naomi Klein ("Capitalism versus Climate") and Flaminia Giovanelli, undersecretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace speaking on behalf of Cardinal Peter Turkson. Thereby he presented his seven theses on the encyclical. One of them is that Carbon Pricing can help to finance Sustainable Development Goals. He argues that the Pope explicitly refers to the “polluter pays principle”.

Edenhofer later told the “Washington Post” that the encyclical “asks for a fundamental departure from the business-as-usual scenario”. And “Vatican Radio” quoted him as saying: “The use of the Commons is a basic human right and its distribution is to be applied according to the principles of justice.”


You can access the seven theses as a pdf here.

You can access the presentation "Seven Steps to the Encyclical „Laudato Si“ by the Holy Father Pope Francis" here.