By ZENIT Staff

By H. E. Archbishop Paul Richard GallagherSecretary for Relations with States of the Holy See

30 September 2020

Mr. President,

The Holy See is pleased to participate in this virtual Summit on “Urgent action on biodiversity” to contemplate with gratitude the gift of creation and to take a serious look at what threatens the extraordinary richness of our planet.

Pope Francis recently expressed his concern in these terms: “We cannot pretend to be healthy in a world that is sick,” because the wounds inflicted on the planet “are wounds that also bleed in us.” For that reason, he underlined that “we cannot remain silent before … the very high costs of the destruction and exploitation of the ecosystem.”[1]

Today’s Summit allows us to attend to those wounds as it provides a timely opportunity to examine the root causes of biodiversity loss, to recognize the many harms caused by it, and to renew our shared commitment to protect our common home.

The rapid loss of biodiversity has many causes, such as agricultural and industrial expansion, pollution, including marine plastic pollution, nuclear tests, and untreated waste. Moreover, the rise in the temperature of oceans has a devastating impact on many of the world’s coral reefs. Fossil fuel consumption and excessive deforestation are fundamental drivers of climate change leading to species extinction, which in turn reduces nature’s resilience.

The consequences of the disappearance of thousands of species are manifold and must be recognized: they threaten the well-being of the entire planet as these species have played a critical role in maintaining the ecological equilibrium of many ecosystems and in addressing environmental challenges. Deforestation, for example, means not only the loss of living beings and ecological relationships but also the loss of natural resources that are vital allies in the fight against climate change. In this regard, the protection of richly biodiverse regions of the world, such as the Amazon and the Congo Basin, as well as the restoration of those ecological equilibria that have been degraded or altered, are essential to reversing this alarming trend.[2]

The impoverishment of nature flowing from biodiversity loss exceeds the environmental dimension alone and leads to great human suffering, especially in the poorest regions of the world. Therefore, taking up the challenge of protecting the planet and all its creatures requires an approach that combines care for our common home with care for our brothers and sisters and integrates immediate measures with long-term strategies, which is what Pope Francis has called “integral ecology.”[3]

To implement this approach, we must rethink development paradigms. When biodiversity is merely considered a deposit of resources available for exploitation, this reductionist model and the consequent “throwaway culture”[4] lead to the irresponsible treatment of nature and human beings. Yet, a truly integral development, which complements the promotion of the common good with respect for human dignity, can be achieved only when development policies are at the service of the human person and incorporate a holistic understanding of the environmental, economic, social, and human implications of using our shared natural resources. The recent pandemic of Covid-19 is a clear example of the importance to implement with urgency and conscientiousness this integral and holistic understanding of our development policies.

Acknowledging that every living being has intrinsic value and purpose and, as such, must be cherished, is a shared responsibility involving everyone’s talents. Restoring a harmonious relationship with nature is a crucial challenge that calls us to act with urgency, as we commit to working together towards making our planet a healthy place to live and preserving the gift of creation for future generations.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] Pope Francis, Letter to the President of the Republic of Colombia to mark the World Environment Day 2020.

[2] Pope Francis, encyclical letter Laudato Si’, 38; post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Querida Amazonia, 48.

[3] Laudato Si’, 11, 62, 124, 159.

[4] Laudato Si’, 16, 22, 43.

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