Environmental negotiators meeting in Paris should strike a climate change deal to save a world “at the limits of suicide,” Pope Francis said on Monday.
The pope was asked if the U.N. climate summit in Paris would mark a turnaround in the fight against global warming. “I am not sure, but I can say to you ‘now or never’,” he told a group of reporters aboard the papal plane, en route home from Africa, according to Reuters. “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”
He spoke of retreating glaciers in Greenland and low-lying countries at risk from rising sea levels.
Politicians have generally “done little” to deal with the growing problem, Francis said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “I am sure they have the good will to do it. And I wish that it will be so, and I pray for this,” he said.
The freewheeling conversations have become a trademark of his papacy and the few times he takes direct questions from journalists.
Francis, who visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, also said the continent was “a martyr of exploitation” by wealthy countries who lust after its natural resources and try to impose Western values instead of concentrating on development.
World leaders launched an ambitious attempt on Monday to hold back the earth’s rising temperatures, with the United States and China — the world’s biggest carbon emitters — urging the U.N. climate summit in Paris to mark a decisive turn in the fight against global warming.
The pope’s last stop in Africa was the Central African Republic, one of the continent’s poorest nations. He made an unscheduled stop at the country’s only paediatric hospital, where doctors told him that they did not have oxygen and that most of the children there were destined to die of malnutrition or malaria, situations expected to worsen as climate change continues.
“Africa is a victim,” he said. “Africa has always been exploited by other powers … there are some countries that want only the great resources of Africa. “But they don’t think about developing the countries, about creating jobs. Africa is martyr, a martyr of the exploitation of history,” he said.
Others are calling for urgent action too. Speaking at the summit, President Obama on Monday quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in warning that “there is such a thing as being too late.”
It remains to be seen if a clean energy path to electrify the rest of the world will be offered over the next 15 years. Countries and the world as a whole would have to stop increasing fossil fuel emissions now or very soon to have a chance of reaching the 1.5 C limit endorsed by the Pope, Catholics, and many countries and dioceses already seeing severe impacts from climate change.