Pope Francis calls for strong climate change agreement at Paris conference


Pope Francis at UNEP headquarters.
Pope Francis at UNEP headquarters.

His Holiness Pope Francis on Thursday called on world leaders to seal a strong agreement at the Paris climate change meeting next month, adding that transforming current development models was a “political and economic obligation”.

Speaking when he visited the global headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Pope Francis placed particular emphasis on the need to adopt low-carbon energy systems and end the “throw-away culture” that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

“In a few days, an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris … It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good,” he said.

“In this international context, we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment,” he added.

Pope Francis also touched upon the need to create a world in which unsustainable consumption and production patterns — which contribute to pollution, ecosystem degradation and climate change through the wasteful use of resources in the production of food and other goods — are eliminated.

“This calls for an educational process which fosters in boys and girls, women and men, young people and adults, the adoption of a culture of care—care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment—in place of a culture of waste, a ‘throw-away culture’ where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment.”

UNEP’s Emissions Gap report released in early November showed that the expected Paris commitments from member states will cut up to 4 to 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from global emissions by 2030.

This, however, is 12 gigatonnes short of the level that will keep the world on track to stay below the “safe” limit of a 2°C temperature rise this century.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner praised Pope Francis’ moral leadership on the issues of climate change and environment, saying it added global momentum to efforts to close the emissions gap and implement Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Addressing the world just a few days before the Paris climate conference, with the future of this planet hanging in the balance, you (Pope Francis) reminds world leaders, business leaders and individual citizens that we each have not only a responsibility, but an obligation to act on what our conscience tells us to be right,” Mr Steiner said.

“In this pivotal year, your powerful notion of the ‘globalization of indifference’ speaks to the heart of the practical and ethical challenges ahead: both to reach a climate change agreement in Paris and to deliver it within the much broader, holistic spectrum of sustainable development that must leave no one behind.”

Mr Steiner took Pope Francis on a tour of the UNEP offices, a sustainable facility powered largely by solar panels, to demonstrate renewable energy and energy efficiency in practice.

There, Mr Steiner presented Pope Francis with an elephant created from discarded flip-flops (a product designed to draw attention to the issue of marine litter and plastic waste) as a token of his appreciation for the Pope’s commitment to the environment.

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