POPE FRANCIS has called on the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge its moral obligations to the environment and to the poor, in his first speech to the UN.
He linked the “misuse and destruction” of the environment to the “relentless process of exclusion” of the poor, denounced social inequality, and blamed “a selfish and boundless thirst for power” for the plight of society’s weak and disadvantaged.
“A true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” he said, “because we human beings are part of the environment. . . Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” Every creature, he said, had “an intrinsic value”. Man was permitted to use creation “for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator”. He was “not authorised to abuse it, much less to destroy it”.
The Pope spoke in Italian to more than 150 heads of state of the 70th General Assembly, in New York City, last Friday morning, the largest gathering of world leaders in history, and the biggest group of global elites any pope has addressed at one time.
The Pope’s speech marked the official start of a global summit during which new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be adopted, including ending poverty “in all its forms everywhere”, and “urgent action to combat climate change”.
He said: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves. Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognise a moral law written into human nature itself.”
China, the United States, and the European Union have already announced their plans to reduce greenhouse gases. Brazil and India are among the other large countries yet to decide. The UN climate-change conference is due to take place in Paris in December.
Pope Francis said that the SDGs were an “important sign of hope”, but warned that “solemn commitments” were “not enough”. He urged world leaders to take “concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment”, besides reassessing lifestyles.
Leaders must remember, he said, that “above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle, and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights”. Such people must be allowed to be “dignified agents of their own destiny”.
A ban on nuclear weapons and arms expansion was also on his agenda. He condemned “an ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction” as “self-contradictory, and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations”. The “unborn” were included in his comments on “the sacredness of every human life”.
He concluded by praising the UN for its pledge to create a “happy future” for generations to come, and implored its members to “serve the common good”.
Pope Francis arrived at the UN in his Fiat car early on Friday, and was greeted by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. He was greeted with cheers and shouts of “Viva Papa!” as he stood to thank staff members for preparing for his visit. He called them the “backbone” of the UN.
In the wake of his US visit, church and other religious leaders committed themselves to five initiatives to combat climate change in a two-day interreligious summit, Coming Together in Faith.
Also on Friday, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, addressed 150 religious and climate leaders at Washington National Cathedral, and online audiences, calling for action to protect the future of the environment.
She said that people of all faiths must show “willingness to change the world in word and action”.