Once one of the world’s most dominant institution, the Catholic Church has been experiencing a steady decline in support, especially among younger generations whose progressive views increasingly diverge from the institution’s long held beliefs. Between 2007 and 2014 only, the percentage of US Americans between the ages of 18-49 identifying as Catholics has dropped by 9% . While still significant, the institution’s popularity in many developing countries is also dropping.
What does this have to do with climate change?
The fight against climate change could create a unique opportunity for the Catholic Church to regain momentum and consolidate its position, both among progressive youngsters in the developed world and in developing countries.
In times of challenged political leadership, leveraging its (still) broad reach and Pope Francis’s personal popularity towards pushing the moral agenda behind a topic such as climate change can be the Church’s strategic step towards modernization.
Why strategic? On the one hand, the uneven distribution of climate change impacts between the rich and the poor, its accentuating effect on modern slavery  and its consumerist drive turn climate change into a perfect match for the Church’s recent discourse against extreme capitalism , as well as for its attempts to “make peace with science”. At the same time, while human intervention in climate change is still a controversial topic among many Catholics (despite overwhelming scientific evidence), it is arguably a less divisive (although not fully unrelated) topic than reproduction  or same-sex rights, thus “safer” for the Pope to address externally and potentially drive internal support within the millenary institution.
What has the Church done about it?
On the 8th of June 2015, ahead of the Paris Climate Change Talks, Pope Francis has issued the first ever papal encyclical dedicated to environmental issues (Laudato Si of the Holy Father on Care for our common home). The ~200 page document expresses support for the “scientific studies that indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (…) released mainly as a result of human activity” . The text also highlights the generational divide on environmental issues, as well as its disproportionate impacts on the less privileged “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”.
Vatican’s support for the climate cause, and specifically the Paris COP 21 deals did not end here. In July 2015, the Pope gathered 60 mayors from the world’s largest cities at the Vatican to pledge support for the cause  and in the months preceding the Paris talks, the Church has encouraged clerics from participating countries to address their governments in support of the agreements . Furthermore, in September 2015, during the first Papal opening of the UN General Assembly in history, Pope Francis expressed his confidence that the COP21 talks in December “would secure fundamental and effective agreements” .
While the position has spurred enthusiasm among climate change supporters, it has not been totally free of criticism. The negative reactions of environmentally skeptic Catholics offended by the Church’s interference in the issue  (after all 53% of US Catholics do not believe humans play a role in global warming ), the disappointment of “cap and trade system” supporters facing the Pope’s dismissal of the approach in the encyclical, or the worries of Peruvian mine workers of the renewable transition costing them their jobs cannot be ignored . Neither can potential financial backlashes in the form of interrupted support from interest groups negatively impacted by environmental policies.
I believe however that the fundamental match between the environmental cause and the Church’s strategic direction, as well as the acknowledgement of the size and uniqueness of the opportunity will lead to sustained efforts from the Vatican. But I also believe the strength of its next steps and its unequivocal lobbying for the Paris agreement to be religiously followed through by signatory countries will define the benefits the institution will be able to harvest from the journey it has just started.
I think it is now time for the Pope to go back to the Vatican, gather his bishops together and make sure his encyclical is disseminated and translated into individual diocese discourses as fast as possible. While this internal dissemination might be one of the biggest battles the Pope will have to take, I believe it is also the one with the highest promise for him to fulfill his mandate and allow the Catholic Church to once again make history, for the benefit of mankind.
 Pew Research Center, “Religious Landscape Study”, 2014, http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/catholic/, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Gillen D’Arcy Wood, “Is climate change the new slavery?”, April 17, 2014, http://grist.org/climate-energy/is-climate-change-the-new-slavery/, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Robert P. Barnidge, Jr., “Against The Catholic Grain: Pope Francis Trumpets Socialism Over Capitalism”, Forbes, March 11, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/03/11/against-the-catholic-grain-pope-francis-trumpets-socialism-over-capitalism/#6d67db304a73, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Erasmus: Religion and Public Policy, “Pope Francis sees links between exploiting the planet and exploiting people”, The Economist, March 20, 2016, http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2016/03/catholicism-ecology-and-slavery, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Pope Francis, “Laudato Si’ — On Care for Our Common Home”, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, May 24, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Gaia Pianigiani, “At Vatican, Mayors Pledge Climate Change Fight”, The New York Times, July 21, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/world/europe/mayors-at-vatican-pledge-efforts-against-climate-change.html, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Justin Catanoso, “Vatican Presses COP21 Negotiators for Strong Climate Agreement”, The Pulitzer Center, December 12, 2015, http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/vatican-presses-cop21-negotiators-strong-climate-agreement, accessed November 3, 2016.
 United Nations News Centre, “‘The future demands of us critical and global decisions’ Pope Francis tells UN General Assembly”, September 25, 2015, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51966#.WBz2FC0rK6I, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Coral Davenport and Laurie Goodstein, “Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm”, The New York Times, April 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/world/europe/pope-francis-steps-up-campaign-on-climate-change-to-conservatives-alarm.html, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Quirin Schiermeier, “Why the Pope’s letter on climate change matters”, Nature, June 18, 2015, http://www.nature.com/news/why-the-pope-s-letter-on-climate-change-matters-1.17800, accessed November 3, 2016.
 Natural Resources Defense Council, “Join Pope Francis and Demand Global Climate Action”, 2015, https://secure.nrdconline.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=3857, accessed November 3, 2016.