Pope Francis has underlined his support for the development of a more sustainable global economy, criticizing the exploitation of nature, including the destruction of rainforests in South America, in his latest appeal against environmental degradation.
Speaking in Italy on Saturday, the Argentine Pope said destruction of forests was a “sin of modern times” and called for more effort to drive sustainable development.
“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” he said at a speech on work and industry. “To convert ourselves to a kind of development that respects creation. “When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land… that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her.”
Pope Francis took his name from Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and has made a number of appeals for improved environmental protection since he took the position as head of the Catholic Church last year.
He is also preparing an encyclical on the environment and climate change, indicating that it has become a top priority for the Vatican.
Earlier this year, Christiana Figueres, United Nations climate change secretariat chief, urged faith leaders to show greater support for action on climate change, including divesting from fossil fuel investments.
Deforestation has caused about 20 percent of the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The rise in greenhouse gases, both human caused and natural, is contributing to unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which contributes to climate change, extreme weather and threats to life as we know it.
Deforestation also cripples our planet’s capacity to capture carbon from the atmosphere, while contributing to the loss of endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and many others. Reforestation is a critical part of the solution to many of our most pressing sustainability challenges.
Forests are critical to the way Earth functions. They lock up vast amounts of carbon and release oxygen. They influence rainfall, filter fresh water and prevent flooding and soil erosion. They produce wild foods, fuelwood and medicines for the people that live in and around them. They are storehouses of potential future crop varieties and genetic materials with untapped healing qualities. Wood and other fibre grown in forests can be used as a renewable fuel or as raw material for paper, packaging, furniture or housing. While the pressures on forests vary across regions, the biggest cause of deforestation is expanding agriculture – including commercial livestock and major crops such as palm oil and soy.