For a 2,000-year-old institution hardly known for its mutability, there was a sense of urgency at the Vatican on Tuesday when scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders discussed climate change and its impact on the world’s poor.
“We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said at an international symposium on climate change organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The event presaged a keenly anticipated papal letter on the environment that Pope Francis is expected to issue in June.
Mr. Ban met with the pope ahead of the one-day conference here and told reporters afterward that the pope’s message in his scheduled papal teaching, known as an encyclical, would come at “a critical time,” one that “demanded a collective action.”
In September, the pope is scheduled to address Congress, as well as a United Nations summit meeting on sustainable development, where he is expected to reiterate his environmental message. The pope has said that climate change is “mostly” a result of human activity.
“I count on his moral voice, his moral leadership,” said Mr. Ban, who is leading efforts to come to an agreement on limiting human contributions to global warming, which will be discussed at a climate summit meeting in Paris in December.
Representatives of different religions spoke at the symposium, and a statement approved Tuesday by the participants underscored their environmental concerns: “These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home,” the statement read.
Pope Francis is not the first pope to address environmental issues, but his encyclical is expected to be the most comprehensive Vatican document so far on the links between sustainable development, concern for the poor and care of the planet.
Some critics of restrictions on greenhouse gases have said the pope’s encyclical could confuse “people into thinking that climate change issues are now an article of faith, part of the Roman Catholic doctrine,” said Marc Morano, publisher of ClimateDepot, a global warming website.
Mr. Morano was part of a delegation of self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” led by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, that came to Rome to challenge the symposium’s findings. Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the institute, said Monday that the delegates wanted to “prevent the pope from making the mistake” of listening only to what they believe are climate change alarmists.
Mr. Ban conceded Tuesday that “faith leaders should not be scientists,” but what is important, he added, “is their moral commitment.”
“Not only scientists, but every citizen should be part of the process,” Mr. Ban said. Religious leaders, he added, should play a “substantively important role.”