Pope Francis is coming to Washington, D.C. John Boehner announced that the the Pope will address a joint session of Congress on September 24, making him the first Pope to do so.
The timing here is instructive.
The Pope was already expected in New York for the United Nations summit on the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be one of the most important UN meetings in decades. The summit will set broad and ambitious targets to eradicate extreme poverty, promote environmental sustainability, and boost health outcomes in the developing world. The “SDGs” will replace the Millennium Development Goals which expire at the end of 2015 and were backed by the Vatican in 2000. This UN meeting could have profound, world historic implications. And although the outcomes of it are hugely significant to most of the 7 billion people on the planet, the SDG summit is somewhat off Congress’ radar. The Pope’s visit will certainly change that.
Six weeks after the SDG summit comes the Paris Climate Talks, which is the last best chance for an internationally binding climate change agreement. The Pope has publicly advocated for an ambitious agreement in Paris, and is reportedly drafting a papal encyclical instructing the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics that fighting climate change is a religious obligation.
Before today’s announcement the Guardian had reported that the Pope was planning on using his time at the United Nations to personally lobby world leaders ahead of the Paris Climate Talks. Now, it seems, he is taking that lobbying directly to Congress–and the American people.
The Pope has already demonstrated his diplomatic acumen by helping to broker the USA-Cuba deal, which like the climate change “debate” in the USA is rooted in some unique peculiarities of domestic American politics. It was probably the case that his personal involvement in the Cuba deal helped to mute some of the otherwise vocal opponents of normalization. So could his remarks change the politics of climate change in the United States? I think it’s within the realm of possibility.