Pope Francis urges immediate climate action at COP28

December 5, 2023

In a message delivered to the delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP28) in Dubai, Pope Francis, though unable to attend in person, emphasized the critical importance of the choices made in the present for the future of all humanity. 

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, delivered the pontiff’s speech, urging world leaders to take concrete and cohesive actions to address the urgent environmental challenges facing our common home.

Pope Francis stated that the future of humanity hinges on the decisions made today. The backdrop of a year marked by record heat and drought made this year’s UN Summit particularly crucial, with contentious issues at the forefront of discussions among nations striving to find common ground on climate change.

The pontiff said that the destruction of the environment is not only a personal sin but also a structural one, posing a severe threat to all human beings, especially the most vulnerable. 

Pope Francis underscored that climate change is a global social issue intertwined with the dignity of human life, challenging leaders to choose between a culture of life or a culture of death.

“The destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst, and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations.”

The Pope attributed the root cause of the climate crisis to the excessive heating of the planet due to unsustainable human activities and escalating levels of greenhouse gases. 

He criticized the obsession with production and possession, resulting in unbridled environmental exploitation, and called for a halt to this illusion of omnipotence.

“The drive to produce and possess has become an obsession, resulting in an inordinate greed that has made the environment the object of unbridled exploitation. The climate, run amok, is crying out to us to halt this illusion of omnipotence.”

Pope Francis rejected attempts to blame the poor and high birth rates, citing the disproportionate impact of environmental issues on the poor, including indigenous peoples, deforestation, hunger, water and food insecurity, and forced migration.

“It is not the fault of the poor, since the almost half of our world that is more needy is responsible for scarcely 10% of toxic emissions, while the gap between the opulent few and the masses of the poor has never been so abysmal.”

The Pope argued against penalizing economically burdened countries, advocating instead for a reconsideration of the “ecological debt” owed by wealthier nations. 

He called for a comprehensive and equitable approach to address the interconnected issues of climate change, economic debt, and social justice on a global scale.

“The almost half of our world that is more needy is responsible for scarcely 10% of toxic emissions.”

Pope Francis proposed that the way out of the environmental crisis lies in unity and multilateralism. He lamented the cooling of multilateralism amid global warming and emphasized the crucial role of trust in rebuilding effective international collaboration.

“It is disturbing that global warming has been accompanied by a general cooling of multilateralism, a growing lack of trust within the international community.”

The Holy Father drew a direct connection between environmental and peace issues, condemning the waste of resources on wars worldwide. 

He proposed redirecting funds from military expenditures to establish a global fund to end hunger, support sustainable development in poorer countries, and combat climate change.

“With the money spent on arms and other military expenditures, let’s establish a global fund that can end hunger, carry out works for the sustainable development of the poorer countries, and combat climate change.”

Pope Francis urged political change, departing from narrow self-interest and nationalism, and fostering ecological conversion. 

He assured the commitment and support of the Catholic Church in education, participation, and promoting sound lifestyles.

“May this COP prove to be a turning point, demonstrating a clear and tangible political will that can lead to a decisive acceleration of ecological transition.”

Pope Francis expressed hope that 2024 could mark a breakthrough, drawing inspiration from the transformative experience of Saint Francis of Assisi. 

He called on leaders to unite forces, leave behind divisions, and work together to emerge from the night of wars and environmental devastation, turning our common future into the dawn of a new and radiant day.

“With God’s help, let us emerge from the dark night of wars and environmental devastation in order to turn our common future into the dawn of a new and radiant day.”

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