Francis stresses solidarity, justice, participation in address to EU environment ministers

This article appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

A “cultural, spiritual and educational challenge” awaits global negotiators set to act in coming months on issues of sustainability and the environment, Pope Francis said Wednesday, as he challenged them to act for the poor, ensure industrialized nations repay their “ecological debt,” and include all voices in the discussion.

The brief comments came during a morning audience at the Vatican with environmental ministers of European Union member states. According to a translation from Vatican Radio, Francis thanked them for the opportunity to share his thoughts before what he described as “important international events in the coming months”:

  • the adoption of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which will build off the Millenium Development Goals established in 2000, at a summit of world leaders at the United Nations in New York from Sept. 25-27. The meeting begins shortly after Francis addresses the U.N. General Assembly the morning of Sept. 25.  
  • the U.N. climate change conference, COP 21, in Paris from Nov. 30-Dec. 11, where world leaders are expected to sign upon a universal agreement to address climate change by keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

The Paris climate conference, the pope said, is “fast approaching, and there is still a long way to go.”

“I strongly encourage you to intensify your work, along with that of your colleagues, so that in Paris the desired result is achieved. On my part and on the part of Holy See there will be no lack of support for an adequate response to the cry of the Earth and to the cry of the poor,” he said.                                                                                         

The pope offered three principles -- solidarity, justice, participation -- to guide the international community toward “effective collaboration” toward the collective goal of caring for the earth.

On solidarity, the pope said it is known that the poor are most vulnerable to environmental degradation and suffer most from its consequences.

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“Thus, solidarity means the implementation of effective tools that are able to fight environmental degradation and poverty at the same time,” he said, offering as an example the development and transfer of technologies that make efficient use of resources to the local level.

On justice, Francis noted that in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” he discussed the idea of an “ecological debt” between the global north and south, where the exploitation of southern nation resources by industrialized northern countries have led to trade imbalances and ecological damage.

“We must honor this debt. These nations are called upon to contribute to solving this debt by setting a good example: limiting in a big way consumption of non-renewable energy; providing resources to countries in need for the promotion of policies and programs for sustainable development; adopting appropriate systems for the management of forests, transportation, waste; seriously addressing the grave problem of food waste; favoring a circular model of economy; encouraging new attitudes and lifestyles,” he said.

On participation, Francis said it “requires the involvement of all stakeholders,” including those typically on the margins. The pope said current times have provided humans with “unprecedented power” through science and technology, but at the same time requires an integral and inclusive vision to wield it properly.

“This demands that we open the door to dialogue, a dialogue that is inspired by a vision which is rooted in that of integral ecology, the very subject of the Laudato Si’’ encyclical,” he said.

He added, “This is obviously a big cultural, spiritual and educational challenge. Solidarity, justice and participation for the respect of our dignity and for respect of creation.”

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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