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Friday, November 27, 2015

The Pope at the UNON: African heritage at constant risk of destruction

Vatican City, 27 November 2015 (VIS) – The Pope's final appointment yesterday afternoon was at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON), the general headquarters of the United Nations in Africa, instituted by the General Assembly in 1996. The structure also houses the offices of two United Nations programmes, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlement Programme). Around twenty international and United Nations organisations have their regional offices for Africa in Nairobi.

Upon arrival, the Pope was welcomed by the director general of the UNON, Sahle Work Zewde, the executive director of UNEP Achim Steiner, and the executive director of UN-Habitat, Joan Clos. Then, accompanied by the director general, he was invited to plant a tree in the UNON park; as Francis later emphasised, this is an act charged with symbolic meaning in many cultures. He then entered the new UNEP building where he pronounced a discourse before 3,000 people, in which he expressed his hope that COP 21 may conclude with a “transformational” global agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation, and with three complex and interdependent aims: the alleviation of the impact of climate change, the fight against poverty, and the promotion of respect for human dignity. In view of the imminent 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation, to be held in Nairobi, the Holy Father also spoke about the agreements on intellectual property and access to medicine and essential healthcare, and also mentioned illegal trafficking in animals and precious stones, trades which perpetuate poverty and exclusion.

The following are extensive extracts from his discourse:

“Planting a tree is first and foremost an invitation to continue the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification. … Planting a tree is also an incentive to keep trusting, hoping, and above all working in practice to reverse all those situations of injustice and deterioration which we currently experience. … In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects”.

“COP21 represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content. We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development. … For this reason, I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and 'transformational' agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity”.

“For all the difficulties involved, there is a growing 'conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home'. No country 'can act independently of a common responsibility. If we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence'. The problem arises whenever we think of interdependence as a synonym for domination, or the subjection of some to the interests of others, of the powerless to the powerful. What is needed is sincere and open dialogue, with responsible cooperation on the part of all: political authorities, the scientific community, the business world and civil society”.

“At the same time we believe that 'human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start'. This conviction leads us to hope that, whereas the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, 'humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities'”.

“This much-needed change of course cannot take place without a substantial commitment to education and training. Nothing will happen unless political and technical solutions are accompanied by a process of education which proposes new ways of living. … This calls for an educational process which fosters in boys and girls, women and men, young people and adults, the adoption of a culture of care … in place of a culture of waste, a 'throw-away culture' where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment. By promoting an 'awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of the future to be shared with everyone', we will favour the development of new convictions, attitudes and lifestyles. … We need to be alert to one sad sign of the 'globalisation of indifference': the fact that we are gradually growing accustomed to the suffering of others, as if it were something normal, or even worse, becoming resigned to such extreme and scandalous kinds of 'using and discarding' and social exclusion as new forms of slavery, human trafficking, forced labour, prostitution and trafficking in organs. 'There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty aggravated by environmental degradation. They are not recognised by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever'”.

“Together with neglect of the environment, we have witnessed for some time now a rapid process of urbanisation, which in many cases has unfortunately led to a 'disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities … [where] we increasingly see the troubling symptoms of a social breakdown which spawns 'increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, … a loss of identity', a lack of rootedness and social anonymity”.

“Here I would offer a word of encouragement to all those working at local and international levels to ensure that the process of urbanisation becomes an effective means for development and integration. This means working to guarantee for everyone, especially those living in outlying neighbourhoods, the basic rights to dignified living conditions and to land, lodging and labour. … The forthcoming Habitat-III Conference, planned for Quito in October 2016, could be a significant occasion for identifying ways of responding to these issues”.

“In a few days, Nairobi will host the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation. … While recognising that much has been done in this area, it seems that we have yet to attain an international system of commerce which is equitable and completely at the service of the battle against poverty and exclusion. Commercial relationships between States, as an indispensable part of relations between peoples, can do as much to harm the environment as to renew it and preserve it for future generations”.

“I would especially like to echo the concern of all those groups engaged in projects of development and health care – including those religious congregations which serve the poor and those most excluded – with regard to agreements on intellectual property and access to medicines and essential health care. Regional free trade treaties dealing with the protection of intellectual property, particularly in the areas of pharmaceutics and biotechnology, should not only maintain intact the powers already granted to States by multilateral agreements, but should also be a means for ensuring a minimum of health care and access to basic treatment for all. Multilateral discussions, for their part, should allow poorer countries the time, the flexibility and the exceptions needed for them to comply with trade regulations in an orderly and relatively smooth manner. Interdependence and the integration of economies should not bear the least detriment to existing systems of health care and social security; instead, they should promote their creation and good functioning. Certain health issues, like the elimination of malaria and tuberculosis, treatment of so-called orphan diseases, and neglected sectors of tropical medicine, require urgent political attention, above and beyond all other commercial or political interests”.

“Africa offers the world a beauty and natural richness which inspire praise of the Creator. This patrimony of Africa and of all mankind is constantly exposed to the risk of destruction caused by human selfishness of every type and by the abuse of situations of poverty and exclusion. In the context of economic relationships between States and between peoples, we cannot be silent about forms of illegal trafficking which arise in situations of poverty and in turn lead to greater poverty and exclusion. Illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, rare metals or those of great strategic value, wood, biological material and animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the relative killing of elephants, fuels political instability, and fuels organised crime and terrorism. This situation too is a cry rising up from humanity and the earth itself, one which needs to be heard by the international community”.

“Once again I express the support of the Catholic community, and my own, to continue to pray and work that the fruits of regional cooperation, expressed today in the African Union and the many African agreements on commerce, cooperation and development, may be vigorously pursued and always take into account the common good of the sons and daughters of this land”.

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