Climate and Energy

Pope warns of “ecological crisis” at UN assembly, urges Paris climate deal

Environment experts praise Pope's speech but insist focus must shift towards implementing SDGs

The global “ecological crisis” and mass destruction of biodiversity may threaten the existence of mankind, Pope Francis’s warned world leaders at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York on Friday.

“Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must respect,” the Pontiff stated.

At the opening of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, the pontiff called for a strong climate agreement at the Paris conference in December.

“The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climate Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements,” he added.

Francisco is the fourth pope to address the UN General Assembly. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke in 2008 and John Paul II spoke to world leaders at the UN twice, in 1979 and 1995. The first was Paul VI in 1965.

This time, the pope asked leaders for concrete actions, not just statements and political propaganda. “It must never be forgotten that…we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer,” he said.

Environment and social inequality

According to Francis, the exploitation and destruction of the environment “are accompanied by the process of social exclusion.”

The pope was sharply critical of consumerism, and urged the world to change its habits. “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged,” he said, adding that a ‘culture of waste’ and abuses of the environment has placed an unjust burden on the poor.

“What touched me in the pope’s speech was his message of hope,” Kitty van der Heijden of the World Resources Institute (WRI) told Diálogo Chino immediately after the speech.

“We can change the way we structure our economy, how we manage waste generation, and we can also change the way we deal with climate change. Fundamentally, it is a matter of choice. Francis was very incisive when he spoke of morality in our choices,” van der Heijden added.

After his near 50-minute speech in Spanish, the Argentinean pope received a standing ovation from the attending heads of state and government.

Kitty van der Heijden also said that the pope’s concern for humanity and the environment across all continents, religions, and different ethnic groups, is a signal for the world to unite and start implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Post-2015 agenda

The UN Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place from September 25 to 27 in New York, formally launched a package of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) lasting until 2030.

“Everything we stand for as an organization, the pope stressed in his speech, it was really an inspiring and historic moment. We have to celebrate, but we are cautious with regard to implementation of the new goals,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.

Speaking to Diálogo Chino, Binyama singled out the connection between environmental destruction and social and economic exclusion as one of the highlights of Pope Francis’ speech.

“He challenged leaders to work on the structural causes that exclude people politically and socially. It was a very powerful message,” said the Oxfam representative, warning that the focus now must shift towards implementing and closely monitoring the SDGs.

In a key moment of the speech, the pope challenged international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to work together to reduce inequalities.

“He advocates more balanced international governance, in addition to reforming the Security Council and financial organizations, so as to give more voice to developing countries. And he positioned himself against the mechanisms that cause economies to generate poverty and increasing amounts of debt for these countries,” added Byanyima.

Pope Francis was able to transmit an encouraging message to world leaders and called for more “political will” to ensure social justice in the 2030 development goals.