Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the workshop on the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development, “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity”, in the Vatican City today:
I thank the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for hosting this important symposium, and His Holiness Pope Francis for extending such a warm welcome.
Pope Francis and I have just had a fruitful and wide ranging conversation. I commend His Holiness, and all faith and scientific leaders here, for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate.
Mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects are necessary to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce inequality and secure equitable, sustainable economic development. That is why I say climate change is the defining issue of our time. Responding to it effectively is essential for sustainable development. Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security.
It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics. We have a profound responsibility to protect the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow. That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue — and in harmony with science.
Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.
Climate change is occurring — now — and human activities are the principal cause. The facts of climate change are upheld by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the major scientific bodies of every Government in the world, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Our response has to be global, holistic and rooted in universal values.
Climate change affects us all, but not equally. Those who suffer first and worst are those who did least to cause it: the poor and most vulnerable members of society. While they did not do much, they are affected much more severely than the developed world. Of course, they do not have any means or resources to mitigate and adapt to this changing situation.
Around the world, I have seen how floods, droughts, rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms are causing terrible harm, and prompting families to migrate, often at great peril. I’m not an economist. I’m not a scientist either, but I only know that climate change is happening. But, I did not have much knowledge and that’s why during the past eight and a half years I have been travelling all around the world wherever I could see, with my own eyes, so I could sound the alarm to the world. I have been to Antarctica, North Pole, Greenland, Iceland, Aral Sea — anyplace you name, I have been there! In July, I will be going to the North Pole again to see how much the situation has changed there. As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, "We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person."
The most vulnerable must be foremost in our thoughts this year as Governments construct a global response to climate change and a new framework for sustainable development.
The new sustainable development goals, which will be adopted in September, will provide a holistic approach that puts social and environmental objectives on par with economic objectives. Eradicating extreme poverty, ending social exclusion of the weak and marginalized, and protecting the environment are values that are fully consistent with the teachings of the great religions.
Yesterday, I, together with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and EU [European Union] High Representative Mogherini, went out to see how the operation that rescues migrants coming from Africa is being done. I was briefed on the naval ship, the San Giusto. I was briefed about Mare Sicura. The Mediterranean Sea, known as tranquil and peaceful, has become now a sea of misery and sea of tears.
Why do they have to risk their lives, be drown to death? Because they have no hope. Either they stay in their home or they come to the sea. They know that they either die or leave. They risk their lives for a better chance. That we have to address with compassionate leadership and warm hands. I really appreciate the Italian Government, and many European Governments, who really send their helping hands. Particularly, the Italian Government and people.
The United Nations, too, champions the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. We share a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals and the sacred duty to care for and wisely manage our natural capital. And we believe that when people strive toward a common goal, transformational change is possible. That is why we work in partnership with Governments, the private sector, civil society and faith-based groups.
If ever there were an issue that requires unity of purpose, it is climate change. Science tells us we are far off track from reducing global emissions sufficient to keep global temperature rise below 2° C. We are currently on course for a rise of 4-5° C. That would alter life on Earth as we know it.
This is morally indefensible. It contradicts our responsibility to be good stewards of creation. People everywhere are realizing we must fundamentally change our ways. Some world leaders have called for the creation of an “ecological civilization,” others for “development without destruction”. Many countries are moving down a low-carbon pathway and investing in clean energy that can power truly sustainable development.
To transform our economies, however, we must first transform our thinking, and our values. In this, the world’s religions can provide valuable leadership. As the Holy See has said, “there is a moral imperative to act, for we all bear the responsibility to protect and to value creation for the good of this and future generations”.
I very much look forward to the upcoming encyclical by Pope Francis. I was told by His Holiness that it could be ready, maybe, in June. It is in the process of translation.
It will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience. It is critically important that people and their leaders hear your strong moral voice in the coming months.
In July, leaders will gather in Addis Ababa for the third International Conference on Finance for Development. In September, Pope Francis will address the United Nations Special Summit on Sustainable Development. It will be the first time ever that a Pope addresses the Special Session of the General Assembly. Previous Popes came to the United Nations at any time they wanted and spoke to the General Assembly, mostly to the Ambassadors. But this will be the first time that he is coming during a regular General Assembly. We are very much looking forward to this historic meeting.
And in Paris, in December, Governments will meet to forge a meaningful universal agreement on climate change. Paris is not the end point, but it must be a turning point in finding a common way forward in meeting the climate challenge. I will have a meeting with President Francois Hollande, who will be the president of the meeting in December, tomorrow and with the Foreign Minister on Thursday.
We need a global climate agreement that is universal, fair and ambitious. Industrialized countries must take the first steps forward. Reasons of equity and historical responsibility require no less. But all countries must do more and be part of the solution, in line with what the science requires. Citizens around the world are demanding an agreement and demanding action.
I was truly inspired when I participated in the Global Citizens Climate March in September last year in New York. There were hundreds of thousands of people marching, demanding and raising their voices for world leaders that we need climate change agreement and that we need to be friendly and hospitable to nature.
I was very much inspired to be part of so many people. There were so many demonstrations all over the world on that day. That was [not] the first time for me to go out to the street with the citizens. [The] first time I did was in the 1960s as a college student. I was going out on the street for the democratization of Korea at the time. I sincerely hope that world leaders will listen to the voices.
Your influence is enormous. You speak to the heart of humanity’s deepest hopes and needs. You can remind us all that we do not exist apart from nature, but are part of a wider creation. Nature does not wait for us. We cannot negotiate with nature. Let this be clear. We have to adapt to the changing nature.
Together, the major faith groups have established, run, or contributed to over half of all schools worldwide. You are also the third largest category of investors in the world. I urge you to invest in the clean energy solutions that will benefit the poor and clear our air.
Sustainable development requires sustainable energy for all. I also urge you to continue to reduce your footprint and educate your followers to reduce thoughtless consumption. We are the first generation that can end poverty in our lifetime, and the last generation to tackle climate change before it is too late, before we have to regret. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.
This year, with the upcoming encyclical, the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, and a global climate agreement, we have an unprecedented opportunity to articulate — create — a more sustainable future and a life of dignity for all. This is a future in which we are good stewards of our common home and good neighbours to all.
I am deeply grateful, first of all to His Holiness Pope Francis, and to all religious and faith leaders, scientists, economists for your moral leadership, and thank you for your strong commitment. Let us work together to make this world better for all, where everybody can live with dignity, in peace and harmony. Thank you.