Pope Francis called on world leaders last month to agree to a historic agreement to fight climate change and poverty at a Paris meet, facing the stark choice to either “improve or destroy the environment.
Francis chose his first visit to the world’s poorest continent to issue a clarion call for the success of the two-week summit, known as COP21, that started on November 28 in the French capital still reeling from the November 13 attacks by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people.
In a long address in Spanish at the United Nations regional office, Francis said it would be “catastrophic” if particular interests prevailed over the common good of people and the planet or if the conference were manipulated by business interests.
In Kenya, at the start of his three-nation Africa trip, the pope also said dialogue between religions was essential to teach young people that violence in God’s name was unjustified.
Bridging the Muslim-Christian divide and climate issues are major themes of the trip that also took him to Uganda, which like Kenya has been victim of Islamist attacks, and the Central African Republic, a nation riven by sectarian conflict.
“We are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or destroy the environment,” the pope said in Nairobi, home to the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters.
He noted that some scientists consider protection of the Congo basin tropical forest, which spreads over six countries and is the world’s second-largest after the Amazon, essential for the future of the planet because of its biodiversity. Francis, who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of nature, has made protecting “God’s creation” a plank of his pontificate. In June, he issued a landmark encyclical calling for urgent action to save the planet.
In his address at the UN compound in Nairobi, he called for action against poaching and illegal mineral exploitation in Africa and called for “a new energy system” reducing fossil fuels to the minimum and a re-think “of the current model of development”.
He said the international community had to listen to the “cry rising up from humanity and the earth itself.”