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UN to back Pope Francis statement on ‘human ecology’

UN will support Pope Francis’ expected encyclical on man’s relationship with the planet, says Christiana Figueres

Pic: MATEUS_27:24&25/Flickr

Pic: MATEUS_27:24&25/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

The UN will back a letter from the Pope on man’s relationship with the environment, its climate chief Christiana Figueres said on Wednesday.

The Vatican confirmed in January that Pope Francis was preparing a statement on “human ecology” describing how man must defend nature. The UN’s support is likely to bestow further influence on his comments, which will already be observed by the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

Speaking to RTCC on the sidelines of an event held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London yesterday, Christiana Figueres said that the UN is “trying to figure out how to use the opportunity” of the Pope’s encyclical, which is the highest form of papal writing.

The statement is unlikely to be released until next year, rendering it too late for the Vatican to deliver it as a pledge at a climate summit to be hosted by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September, where other countries are expected to announce new national measures to tackle climate change.

But Figueres added that “everyone’s expecting it”, and that the UN was working on an alternative venue in which to make use of the Pope’s comments.

Pope Francis has already spoken publically on his concern over environmental destruction. Speaking after his election, he said he had taken the name of St Francis of Assisi because he “teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment”.

Holy See

The attention of the UN could raise the pressure on the Vatican to deliver concrete action on climate change, at the same time as other countries are working towards their contributions towards a UN climate change treaty.

This treaty will be signed off in Paris at the end of 2015, but all parties must deliver their national pledges by March. This does not apply to the Holy See, which is not a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, although it does have official observer status.

A Holy See official told RTCC that its non-party status is for “technical reasons”, and that “the Holy See shares the aim of the Convention”, which is to limit global warming to less than 2C, at which stage the impacts of climate change become more severe.

Speaking at the end of the UN’s climate conference in Warsaw last year, the Holy See’s head of delegation Archbishop Celestino Migliore echoed the Pope in declaring that the new agreement should work towards the “safeguarding of the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology.”

He also criticised the number of delays to a UN-brokered legally binding climate treaty. The last attempt to sign off a deal famously faltered in Copenhagen in 2009.

“There is still a long and complex way to go in a relatively short time,” he said.

Tough love

Speaking to an audience of over a thousand under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral last night, Christiana Figueres called on faith groups from “North and South, East and West” to lead in a “policy pilgrimage” that will culminate in Paris next year with the signing of the UN treaty.

She highlighted some of the contributions made by the religious community to date, including a review by the Church of England’s General Synod of its fossil fuel investments, and the commitments of 12 religious institutions across the US. She also celebrated the efforts of the multi-faith groups who have sent a letter to Pope Francis on the “immorality” of investing in fossil fuels.

The challenge is equal to many other social revolutions that have been witnessed by the Cathedral, including slavery, apartheid and women’s rights, she said, and climate change has now become the issue which should set the world’s “moral compass”.

She said that while the world needs to undergo a “complex transformation with “myriad components”, love would be central to the journey. “I am not talking about feeble love,” she said. I am referring to tough love, the love that is strong enough to make tough decisions because we know it is the right thing to do.

“I am certain we all harbour more love than we are expressing toward the future of our children and our planet.”

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