‘Any harm done to the environment … is harm done to humanity’

Source: Lisa Friedman, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 28, 2015

UNITED NATIONS — Pope Francis brought his global campaign for social justice and climate action to New York today, telling heads of state from around the world that harming the environment is akin to harming humanity.

Greeted by cheers and chants of “Papa! Papa!” as he entered the General Assembly Hall, the pope made his way slowly to the front of the room and greeted the largest gathering of leaders in the history of the United Nations in his native Spanish with a simple “good morning.”

Unlike his speech to Congress yesterday in which the Catholic spiritual leader avoided the words “climate change,” even as he challenged U.S. lawmakers to “courageous actions” on behalf of the environment, Pope Francis today explicitly made the case for action (Greenwire, Sept. 24).

“We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator. He is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it,” the pope said to loud applause.

Speaking to a packed hall that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sitting next to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the pope called for a “fundamental and effective” international climate agreement in Paris in December.

He also linked the effort to protect the environment directly with alleviating poverty. Referencing his landmark encyclical on the environment, Francis also denounced consumerism and what he called “a culture of waste” that goes hand-in-hand with fueling poverty and destruction of the environment.

“A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads to both the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged,” the pontiff said.

Meanwhile, he argued, the environment’s needs must be treated on a par with mankind’s.

“It must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” he said. “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.”

Leaders emerging from the General Assembly hall had high praise for the Pope’s words on the environment. Rachel Kyte, special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, said she hopes his words will resonate with negotiators charged with hammering out an accord in Paris.

“At the end of the day negotiators are human beings. At the end of the day heads of state are human beings,” she said. “Who knows how that gets translated.”

Environmentalists also honed in on the pope’s message.

“As he addressed the nations of the world today, the pope could not have been more clear about the moral obligation we all have to act on climate immediately, and a key way to do just that is to secure a ‘fundamental and effective’ agreement in Paris this December,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“Pope Francis’ emphasis on the fact that the climate crisis and the crisis of biodiversity ‘can threaten the very existence of the human species’ ought to serve as a wake-up call to politicians around the world who are standing in the way of action,” he said.

After his U.N. speech, Francis visited the World Trade Center memorial, where he met families of 9/11 victims and emergency responders and participated in an interfaith prayer service.