By Sahil Nandwani
Following the first ever papal address to a joint session of Congress and a visit to the White House, Pope Francis took New York by storm on September 26th, 2015, when he delivered a serious and hard-hitting speech to the United Nations General Assembly. The pontiff’s speech took a more political tone, which is not unusual for a pope -- Paul VI, John Paul II, and Emeritus Benedict XVI all gave speeches to the UN General Assembly centered around the socioeconomic and political issues of their times.
For his first of presumably many speeches to the United Nations, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires focused on “humanitarian law” and its relation to the environmental issues we are dealing with today. In his short speech, he took every opportunity he could to emphasize that it is imperative that governments work together in order to combat the adverse effects of climate change. This universal struggle that all of humanity faces, he claimed, is the defining issue of our time.
Moreover, he argued that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations, every human has an inalienable “right to the environment.” He justified this with the fact that everyone shares the environment and experiences its changes. Therefore, he urged the UN to take any and all actions necessary to protect the sanctity of the environment with the technological improvements of modern times.
Using the humanitarian angle of environmental rehabilitation as a segue, Pope Francis proceeded with a passionate advocation for assisting the world’s impoverished. This did not come as a shock to anyone in the Assembly as the Argentinian has openly lived a very humble lifestyle; even when touring America, he spent his time in the company of the underprivileged. He has always protected them and called on governments to eliminate the causes of poverty.
The pope’s speech was exactly what everyone expected it to be: concise, powerful, and hortative. However, that didn’t diminish its impact. His massive influence on the UN’s agenda is irrefutable; his speech is expected to reshape and strengthen the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the recently adopted framework of the UN’s policies on environmental issues.
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