Your Holiness, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: on behalf of all my colleagues at the United Nations Environment Programme—welcome to Nairobi!
It is an honor for us to host you in the Headquarters of the UN in Africa and the City of Nairobi, which we in UNEP have been proud to call our home for over four decades now. It is from here that we lead the United Nations effort on the environment—an effort that your voice now carries with a renewed sense of urgency the world needs to hear.
As both a leader of faith and a leader in our global community, your voice reaches across many boundaries. You have spoken to the challenges of our time with compassion, clarity and empathy; you have shown unwavering commitment to confronting injustice, intolerance and inhumanity; and you have combined the force of science and knowledge with spiritual values and moral orientation.
Through Laudato Si, your encyclical on the environment, and more recently in your address to the United Nations General Assembly, you shared a vision of a world in which people and nature can live in harmony. That inspiration guides us in understanding our responsibility to each other and to our planet, which today provides for seven billion people, but must soon support nine billion.
Addressing the world just a few days before the Paris climate conference, with the future of this planet hanging in the balance, you remind world leaders, business leaders and individual citizens that we each have not only that responsibility, but an obligation to act on what our conscience tells us to be right.
The United Nations has a unique role in focusing efforts on climate change and in forging consensus to allow the world to act together. We are the first to acknowledge that, at times, it can be a painfully slow journey from recognizing the challenge to delivering the solutions.
Yet, however slow, the progress is steady, as we have already seen with the reversal of damage to the Ozone layer. So, the United Nations does work, does make a real difference and does improve the lives of millions of people.
That is why—what has resonated for me personally—is your ability to frame our collective and personal obligation in terms that are full of hope. This is exactly the mindset we need.
In this pivotal year, your powerful notion of the “globalization of indifference” speaks to the heart of the practical and ethical challenges ahead: both to reach a climate change agreement in Paris and to deliver it within the much broader, holistic spectrum of sustainable development that must leave no one behind.
That approach has embedded climate change into the global consciousness. Not just the science on harmful emissions and the wasteful practices that contribute to them, but the wellbeing of a healthy planet that includes justice, equality and solidarity with the most vulnerable in society—the very people who are often the least responsible for the problem but the most affected by the consequences.
At a time when world leaders face some of the toughest decisions in a generation, the agenda for sustainable development demands hard choices between the narratives of conflict and competition that carry such seeds of destruction or striving towards an inclusive society that looks beyond self-interest to create jobs, opportunities and, most of all, hope. This cannot just be about the narrow pursuit of economic growth; it must be about the value and the future of humanity living in harmony with nature and with each other.
Thank you for being with us today and for speaking from the heart of Africa to the hearts of people across the world.