ROME – Despite cancelling a planned trip to the COP28 United Nations climate summit due to health concerns, Pope Francis sent a message to the event Saturday lamenting the lack of progress in fighting climate change, repeating appeals for multilateralism, and calling the world to action.
In a prepared speech read aloud by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis said “the destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural.”
It is a sin, he said, “that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations.”
“Are we working for a culture of life or a culture of death? To all of you I make this heartfelt appeal: Let us choose life! Let us choose the future!” he said.
Pope Francis was scheduled to make a Dec. 1-3 visit to Dubai to address the COP28 summit and was expected to hold over 30 bilateral meetings with various heads of state and representatives of various organizations.
However, he cancelled the visit earlier this week after being advised to do so by his doctors due to what the Vatican has described as a “mild flu” causing lung inflammation, for which he is receiving antibiotics.
Speaking to participants in a Nov. 30 seminar on ethics in healthcare management, Francis said he had “a very acute, infectious bronchitis,” and that while he no longer had a fever, he remains on antibiotics to treat his lung inflammation.
Parolin traveled to COP28 in his place, where he pronounced the pope’s speech faulting human activity for the greenhouse gas emissions which scientists say is causing global warming, and condemned an obsessive drive for production he said has caused “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,” the pope said in his speech, saying world leaders must be humble in recognizing limits.
Several things stand in the way of this recognition, such as widespread divisions, he said, saying that “a world completely connected, like ours today, should not be un-connected by those who govern it.”
It should not be the case that international negotiations “cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good,” he said, condemning nations that choose to protect income and business interests over people while shifting blame onto others.
To this end, Pope Francis condemned what he said were attempts “to shift the blame onto the poor and high birth rates,” saying these are “falsities that must be firmly dispelled.”
The poor cannot be responsible when they are responsible for just 10 percent of toxic emissions, while the gap between “the opulent few and the masses of the poor has never been so abysmal,” he said, calling the poor the real victims.
Francis also hit back against advocates of population control who fault high birth rates for climate woes, saying, “Births are not a problem, but a resource.”
“They are not opposed to life, but for life, whereas certain ideological and utilitarian models now being imposed with a velvet glove on families and peoples constitute real forms of colonization,” he said.
Pope Francis also said poorer nations should be forgiven their economic debt, as wealthier nations owe them what he said was “a deeply troubling ‘ecological debt.’”
“It would only be fair to find suitable means of remitting the financial debts that burden different peoples, not least in light of the ecological debt that they are owed,” he said.
As he has in the past, the pope advocated for multilateralism as a strategy for moving forward, saying, “Our world has become so multipolar and at the same time so complex that a different framework for effective cooperation is required.”
“It is disturbing that global warming has been accompanied by a general cooling of multilateralism, a growing lack of trust within the international community,” he said, saying, “It is essential to rebuild trust, which is the foundation of multilateralism.”
Speaking of the need end global conflicts, Pope Francis said care of creation and the pursuit of peace go hand in hand, and lamented the vast amount of human energy being wasted “on the numerous wars presently in course, such as those in Israel and Palestine, in Ukraine and in many parts of the world.”
These conflicts will not solve problems, but will increase them, he said, lamenting the many resources “being squandered on weaponry that destroys lives and devastates our common home.”
He repeated past pleas for nations to use the money they would spend on weapons and instead allocate it to a global fund to eradicate hunger and to help poorer nations develop and fight climate change.
Francis said it is the responsibility of the young and of future generations to lay the foundation for a solid multilateralism and insisted that the fight against climate change requires “political change.”
“Let us emerge from the narrowness of self-interest and nationalism; these are approaches belonging to the past. Let us join in embracing an alternative vision” that will bring about ecological conversion, he said, and pledged the Catholic Church’s commitment and support through education and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles.
Calling for “a breakthrough that is not a partial change of course, but rather a new way of making progress together,” the pope recalled previous climate commitments, including the 1992 climate conference in Rio de Janeiro and the COP21 Paris Agreement in 2015.
“Now there is a need to set out anew. 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,” he said, saying the requirements for this transition are that the means must be “efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.”
They must also be achieved in the four sectors of “energy efficiency; renewable sources; the elimination of fossil fuels; and education in lifestyles that are less dependent on the latter,” he said.
“Please, let us move forward and not turn back, he said, saying previous agreements and commitments have been “poorly implemented” and that there is no more time for postponing a response.
For those in positions of authority, “the purpose of power is to serve,” he said, saying it is useless for those with responsibility “to cling to an authority that will one day be remembered for its inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so.”
“History will be grateful to you. As will the societies in which you live, which are sadly divided into ‘fan bases,’ between prophets of doom and indifferent bystanders, radical environmentalists and climate change deniers,” he said.
The remedy for this “is good politics,” Francis said, saying, “If an example of concreteness and cohesiveness comes from the top, this will benefit the base, where many people, especially the young, are already dedicated to caring for our common home.”
He voiced hope that the year 2024 would mark a breakthrough, and noted that a thousand years ago, in the year 1224, Saint Francis of Assisi composed his famed “Canticle of the Creatures” prayer as the fruit of a mystical experience, after having gone blind.
“I too, who bear the name Francis, with the heartfelt urgency of a prayer, want to leave you with this message: Let us leave behind our divisions and unite our forces!” he said, adding, “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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