Pope Urges Deal on Climate Change in Paris to Avoid Catastrophe

  • World must correct dysfunctions of current development model
  • Global temperatures set to be highest on record this year

Pope Francis urged world leaders preparing to meet at a United Nations conference on climate change to agree an accord that transforms current development models and focuses on the need to adopt low-carbon energy systems.

Negotiators meeting in Paris next week have a political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the “dysfunctions and distortions of the current development model,” the pontiff said in a speech at the UN Environment Programme headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Wednesday on the first leg of a three-nation tour of Africa, his first visit to the continent.

More than 130 world leaders are gathering Monday at a United Nations conference in Paris to open negotiations on a new climate change deal intended to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Data released by the UN this week showed that the planet is halfway to dangerous levels of global warming, with the average temperature for 2015 set to eclipse last year’s record.

“It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good,” Pope Francis said. “We are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or destroy the environment.”

A UN Environment Programme report released earlier this month showed that member states will commit to cutting as much as 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from global emissions in 2030. That’s 12 gigatonnes short of the level that will keep the world on track to stay below the “safe” limit of a 2-degree temperature rise this century, the UN said in an e-mailed statement Thursday.

The meeting in Paris “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,” the pope said.

This year’s average temperature will be “approximately” 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1880-1899 mean for the first time, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said Wednesday. That compares with the 2-degree threshold beyond which scientists say the effects of climate change risk becoming catastrophic.

Even 2 degrees of warming would entail a degree of sea level rise that threatens low-lying territories, and a bloc of 39 island nations is pushing for the temperature ceiling to be lowered to 1.5 degrees Celsius to protect their territory.

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