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Statement on Protection of Rainforests

Secretary of State of the Holy See

Head of the Delegation of the Holy See to the

Seventy-Fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly

High-Level Meeting on Multilateral Action in Favor of the Protection of Rainforests

United Nations Headquarters, Conference Room 1

23 September 2019


Honorable Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chancellors, Distinguished Panelists, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to participate in this High-Level Meeting convened to prompt urgent and lasting action to protect our rainforests.

We all recognize how important forests are for the whole world and indeed for the very future of humanity: they are the world’s most reliable renewable resource and are essential for integral human development. At a time of increasing urbanization, their irreplaceable importance is often taken for granted and underestimated, which is why education is crucial so that people will regard them not merely as resources to be harnessed, but also as a sanctuary to be cultivated and constantly replenished. The urgency of this task of protection and education is increasingly obvious, as the rapid destruction of forests risks the loss of species and vital relationships that could end up altering the entire ecosystem.

Great human suffering arises from the wanton destruction of forests. The impact falls mainly on those who depend on forests for their home, livelihood, cultural heritage and social structures. Care for our common home, and care for our brothers and sisters in that home, must go together. We need an integral ecology and integral development, balancing the responsible use of forests for economic and social development with protecting and preserving them for the good of those who depend on and care for them, and for the good of humanity and future generations. Decisions to improve the management of our forests must be undertaken with the full and meaningful participation of those whose rights, values and lives will be most impacted.

In two weeks, on October 6, Pope Francis will gather in the Vatican a Synod of Bishops from all over the world for the Amazonian Region which will be focused principally on the ecclesial and pastoral challenges of the area, with particular attention given to indigenous peoples living there and the human, ecological, social and economic issues that are impacting the region and, indeed, humanity. Several other important ecosystems and vast biomes also face serious threats, such as the Congo Basin, the rainforests in Southeast Asia, as well as national forests and vegetation covers.

Earlier this month, I was with Pope Francis in Madagascar, which has lost 21 percent of its total forest since 2001. In a meeting with national leaders, civil society representatives, and the diplomatic corps accredited in Antananarivo, he spoke passionately about how protecting our forests must comprise part of integral development and care for our common home.

“Your lovely island of Madagascar,” he said, “is rich in plant and animal biodiversity, yet this treasure is especially threatened by excessive deforestation. ... The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home.” Several destructive activities, he noted, are reluctantly done by poor inhabitants to ensure their survival. He therefore underlined that to protect the environment, jobs must be created to help them emerge from poverty. “There can be no true ecological approach or effective efforts to safeguard the environment,” he stated, “without the attainment of a social justice capable of respecting the right to the common destination of earth’s goods, not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come.”

The crisis of the rapid destruction of our forests, especially our rainforests, is not just environmental, but also social and above all ethical. Strategies to address it without delay demand an integrated, multilateral approach that combats poverty and restores dignity to the excluded, at the same time as it protects this precious, indispensable and endangered gift.

Thank you very much.