Gavin Newsom, during his speech at the Vatican on climate change, accuses Trump of "open corruption"

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Gov. Gavin Newsom accused former President Donald Trump of “open corruption” in a speech Thursday at a climate summit of Catholic officials and international leaders, elevating his criticism of the Republican leader in the hallowed halls of the Vatican.

The California governor referenced news stories alleging that Trump recently solicited campaign donations from oil executives and at the same event vowed to walk back climate protections if elected in the 2024 presidential contest.

“He openly asked them for $1 billion dollars to rollback the environmental progress of the Biden administration, environmental progress that we’ve made over the course of the last half century,” Newsom said. “Open corruption. A billion dollars to pollute our states, to pollute our country, and to pollute this planet and a roll back progress.”

The governor spoke at a three-day “From Climate Crisis to Climate Resilience” summit organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Newsom’s appearance and comments likely will elevate his position as a climate leader on a world stage, and his speech received a round of applause from the international gathering of governors, mayors and policy experts.

With temperatures and carbon emissions rising worldwide, the aim of the conference is for local and state governments to share best practices about fighting climate change and adapting to hotter temperatures, rising seas and a more volatile environment.

Newsom’s talk also matched the tenor of a critique of the oil industry he delivered last fall at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit in New York.

“It’s because of the burning of gas, the burning of coal, the burning of oil,” Newsom said at the Vatican. “We have the tools. We have the technology. We have the capacity to address the issue at a global scale and they’ve been fighting every single advancement and we have got to call that out.”

Bob Salladay, Newsom’s top communications adviser, said his candid assessment earlier in New York of the industry, which he said was playing everyone for fools, caught the attention of the Vatican and is one of the reasons he was invited to speak at the climate summit.

The setting of his speech, in a carpeted auditorium at the Vatican that typically houses gatherings of bishops, drew a stark contrast to the marbled floors and renaissance wall murals that lined Clementine Hall, where Newsom spoke with Pope Francis Thursday morning.

In an address to government leaders and climate scientists in Clementine Hall, Pope Francis cast the destruction of the environment as an offense against God.

“This is the question: Are we working for a culture of life or for a culture of death?” Pope Francis said.

Newsom and his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, sat in the second row of the audience in an Apostolic Palace near St. Peter’s Basilica.

A pope’s body is placed in the hall for private visitation upon his death. It’s also the same room that former President Obama visited in 2009.

Pope Francis called the refusal to protect the most vulnerable who are exposed to climate change caused by human activity a “grave violation of human rights.”

He said around 1 billion people in wealthier nations “produce more than half the heat trapping pollutants” of the world. Poorer people, he said, contribute less than 10% and suffer 75% of the resulting damage.

Pope Francis thanked the participants for their efforts to transition to climate resilience through equity and social justice.

After the speech, Newsom and Siebel Newsom walked along an aisle of ornate stone tiles to the front of the room, where the governor briefly spoke with the Pope. The governor said Pope Francis commended his administration’s work on the death penalty.

Newsom issued a moratorium on the death penalty and closed California’s execution chambers in 2019.

A procession of attendees also greeted the Pope, who took time to shake hands with every person in the room.

The Pope signed a planetary compact at the end of his speech, which Newsom and other government leaders also signed Thursday.

Wade Crowfoot, California’s Natural Resources Secretary, described the compact as an unprecedented agreement among international governors, mayors, indigenous leaders and scientists to work together to confront climate change with a focus on resiliency and equity.

Crowfoot and Lauren Sanchez, Newsom’s top climate advisor, also participated in hours of meetings at the conference Wednesday and spoke on a panel with other state officials from the U.S.

Newsom is hosting a state climate summit in Southern California this fall as a continuation of the work at the Vatican conference. The state will be inviting local leaders and experts from California.

“We’re taking the torch of subnational leadership back to California, where it belongs, to convene scientists, local governments and leaders to tackle the climate threat that is the existential crisis of our time,” Sanchez said.

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