Save, protect forests without delay cardinal says at climate summit

Smoke billows from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Brazil, September 10. Photo: CNS/Reuters

UNITED NATIONS (CNS): “We all recognise how important forests are for the whole world and indeed for the very future of humanity: They are the world’s most reliable renewable resource and are essential for integral human development,” Pietro Cardinal Parolin said on September 23 at the high level meeting, Multilateral Action in Favour of the Protection of Rainforests, held as part of the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations (UN).

The Vatican’s secretary of state lamented that at a time of increasing urbanisation, the “irreplaceable importance” of forests is being “taken for granted and underestimated.” 

Education about forests “is crucial so that people will regard them not merely as resources to be harnessed, but also as a sanctuary to be cultivated and constantly replenished,” the cardinal said.

The protection of forests and education about them is urgent “as the rapid destruction of forests risks the loss of species and vital relationships that could end up altering the entire ecosystem.”

“Great human suffering arises from the wanton destruction of forests,” Cardinal Parolin said in his address at the high-level meeting on rainforests. “The impact falls mainly on those who depend on forests for their home, livelihood, cultural heritage and social structures.”

Echoing Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, he said: “Care for our common home, and care for our brothers and sisters in that home, must go together.”

The cardinal called for “integral ecology and integral development, balancing the responsible use of forests for economic and social development with protecting and preserving them for the good of those who depend on and care for them, and for the good of humanity and future generations.”

He added, “Decisions to improve the management of our forests must be undertaken with the full and meaningful participation of those whose rights, values and lives will be most impacted.”

Cardinal Parolin noted that at the beginning of October, Pope Francis would convene the Synod of Bishops the Amazonian Region.

A major focus of the October 6 to 27 synod will be recasting the mission of the Church in a vast region that wrestles with complex political, cultural, ecological and pastoral issues, and where indigenous people must cope with historical injustice and ongoing threats to their way of life.

“Several other important ecosystems and vast biomes also face serious threats, such as the Congo Basin, the rainforests in Southeast Asia, as well as national forests and vegetation covers,” Cardinal Parolin said.

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He noted the situation in Madagascar, which has lost 21 per cent of its total forest since 2001. He accompanied Pope Francis to that country as well as Mozambique and Mauritius in early September.

Meeting with national leaders, civil society representatives and the diplomatic corps accredited in Antananarivo, Madagascar, he said, the pope “spoke passionately about how protecting our forests must comprise part of integral development and care for our common home.”

He quoted Pope Francis: “Your lovely island of Madagascar is rich in plant and animal biodiversity, yet this treasure is especially threatened by excessive deforestation. … The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home.”

Cardinal Parolin said the pope noted that several destructive activities “are reluctantly done by poor inhabitants to ensure their survival. He therefore underlined that to protect the environment, jobs must be created to help them emerge from poverty.”

The cardinal concluded by telling told his UN audience: “The crisis of the rapid destruction of our forests, especially our rainforests, is not just environmental, but also social and above all ethical.”

He said strategies to address this crisis that must employed “without delay” must take “an integrated, multilateral approach that combats poverty and restores dignity to the excluded, at the same time as it protects this precious, indispensable and endangered gift.”

“It is necessary to ask whether there is a real political will to allocate greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who suffer the most”

Pope Francis

Cardinal Parolin was heading Vatican delegation to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. He also addressed a high-level UN meeting on universal health care and later in the week, was scheduled to address two other high-level side events, one on ensuring a future for persecuted Christians and one on small island developing states.

The cardinal delivered greetings from Pope Francis to attendees at the Appeal of Conscience Dinner. He was also slated to address a small group at Fordham University one the evening of September 27 about themes related to the pope’s recent trip to Africa: peace and reconciliation, Mozambique; extreme poverty and the environment, Madagascar; and interfaith-intercultural dialogue and migration, Mauritius.

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In related news, Pope Francis sent a video greeting on September 23 to Climate Action Summit participants stressing that the international community must ramp up its efforts if it expects to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. 

He noted that while the 2015 Paris climate agreement raised awareness and the “need for a collective response,” the commitments made by countries “are still very weak and are far from achieving the objectives set.”

The pope said, “It is necessary to ask whether there is a real political will to allocate greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who suffer the most.”

Calling climate change “one of the most serious and worrying phenomena of our time,” the pope said that states have a duty to fight against it and that despite the weak response, a “window of opportunity is still open.”

He said, “We are still in time. Let us not let it close. Let us open it with our determination to cultivate integral human development, to ensure a better life for future generations. It is their future, not ours.”

The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue, but a “challenge of civilisation in favour of the common good,” Pope Francis said.

“And this is clear, just as it is clear that we have a multiplicity of solutions that are within everyone’s reach, if we adopt on a personal and social level a lifestyle that embodies honesty, courage and responsibility,” the pope said.

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