Pope Francis declares 'right of the environment' at UN

Addressing the United Nations, Pope Francis pushed for action on climate and world peace.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Pope Francis addresses attendees in the opening ceremony to commence a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York September 25, 2015.

During his speech before the United Nations on Friday, Pope Francis urged for a more human global system that respects the environment.

Speaking to more than 100 world leaders and diplomats at UN headquarters in New York, the pope said that the environment is a "fundamental good" in all religions, and that a "selfish and boundless thirst" for power and wealth harms the planet and people alike.

"We human beings are part of the environment," Francis said. "We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect ... Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity."

Francis added, "Christians believe with other religions" that man is supposed to take care of nature. "He is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it."

Environmental destruction goes hand in hand with injustice, and is a result of a system that is too focused on material wealth, the pope said.

"A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity" that misuses natural resources and degrades the environment also leads to social ills by excluding those who are physically, economically or politically weak," he said. "Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment."

He said he hoped a forthcoming summit on climate change in Paris would produce a "fundamental and effective agreement."

His remarks echoed his own encyclical on the environment, a papal document released earlier this year to global attention. In it, the pope called for a bold cultural revolution to correct what he calls the "structurally perverse" economic system of the rich exploiting the poor and destroying the planet.

Earlier this week, in his first speech in the United States, Pope Francis made a strong pitch for battling climate change, calling the present a "critical moment in history." He reminded his secular audience of the theological roots of his environmental activism.

"We know by faith that the Creator does not abandon us; He never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us," he said. "As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home."

At the UN General Assembly, Francis praised the recent Iranian nuclear deal in his speech, saying it was proof that political will and patience can bring about fruits. He said he hopes it will last, "with the cooperation of all the parties involved."

But Francis lamented that conflicts are raging elsewhere and that Christians and religious minorities, in particular, are being targeted.

"I must appeal to you regarding the painful situation in the entire Middle East, north Africa where Christians and even members of the majority religion have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, places of cultural heritage," Francis said. Many of those people are "paying for their religious belief with their own lives or though slavery," he said.

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