'This is God's creation': Pelosi invokes religion for climate change action after U.N. summit

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To emphasize the moral imperative to combat climate change, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked her religious beliefs in a press conference on Thursday.

Pelosi said limiting the severity of climate change is “a moral obligation for us to hand this planet over to the next generation in a responsible way.”

“For me, it’s a religious thing: I believe this is God’s creation, and we have a moral obligation to be good stewards,” said Pelosi, who is a practicing Catholic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stands before a signboard labeled
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her weekly news conference on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is a strong advocate of action to address climate change. President Biden, who, like Pelosi, is a Catholic Democrat, met with the pope in late October and discussed their shared commitment to fighting climate change, among other subjects.

Still, Catholic politicians who advocate climate action, including Biden and John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, usually avoid connecting their policy stances directly to their personal faith.

On Thursday, Pelosi hastened to add that one need not be religious to agree with her argument.

“If you don’t share that view,” she said, referring to her comments about the Earth being God’s creation, “you must share the view that we have an obligation to future generations."

Pelosi was discussing Biden’s Build Back Better budget proposal, which includes significant investments in moving the United States to reliance on clean energy and electric vehicles. The House speaker hopes to get the bill through Congress before the Thanksgiving recess.

The urgency is particularly acute because the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, also known as COP26, just concluded last Saturday. Pelosi led a 21-member congressional delegation there last week. During their visit, she and her colleagues consistently touted the provisions of Build Back Better as if its passage were assured, despite its uncertain future in the Senate.

“It gave us great hope,” Pelosi said of COP26. “We had highest-level meetings there and were inspired by what happened.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before a background that reads
Pelosi at the climate summit in Glasgow. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

“It took a giant step forward, but we have to do our share, our fair share,” she added.

In Glasgow, Pelosi said her expectation was that both chambers would pass Build Back Better by Nov. 15, a deadline that has already passed. Before the climate change conference began on Nov. 1, she had asserted it would pass in October, in time to bolster the Biden administration’s ability to cajole greater efforts to combat climate change from other nations in Glasgow. But the bill has been stuck in the Senate, where centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have withheld their support.

Although the climate change negotiations produced a more ambitious agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions than was previously in place, the Glasgow Climate Pact still falls short of its own stated goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.2°F).

A major reason is the reluctance of rich nations that have caused the climate crisis to rapidly eliminate their own emissions before expecting developing nations to do the same.

The U.S. is the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse gas polluter, and so its own exhortations to large developing nations like India and China to move up the dates by which they will phase out fossil fuels are weakened by its lack of significant climate action so far.

In order to boost the prospects for success in Glasgow, the Biden administration promised to halve emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, a pledge that depends in part on Build Back Better’s passage.

President Biden, at the White House on Thursday, speaks as Attorney General Merrick Garland, wearing a mask, listens.
President Biden with Attorney General Merrick Garland at the White House on Thursday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In order to close the gap between actions promised thus far and those needed to avert catastrophic climate change, nations agreed to meet again in a year. During that time, the most vulnerable countries hope that big emitters will increase the ambition of their plans.

So if Build Back Better doesn’t pass, the U.S. will be in a very weak position from which to lead efforts to further cut emissions at the next U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP27, which will be held next year in Egypt.

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.