A senior Vatican official urged a roomful of world leaders "to take action" and work in a spirit of solidarity to come up with an accord to combat global warming before it is too late.
"A great deal is at stake for every country. Progress has too long been based on fossil energy, to the detriment of the environment. This is the moment to take action," Cardinal Peter Turkson told a high-level segment of the U.N. climate change conference taking place on the outskirts of Paris.
"As many scientists and economists are warning, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to rectify environmental conditions -- and the more damage and suffering the delay will cause," Cardinal Turkson told the various heads of state and government assembled Dec. 8.
Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that while no one had the right to deprive future generations of the chance to live on earth, "this, unfortunately, is a horrible and ever more likely possibility."
"Instead of being careful about this common home of ours, we have been careless. Damage flows from selfish, short-sighted economic and political choices. As a result, the cries of the poor and the desperate now join the groaning of the earth. Those whose homes and livelihood are washed away by rising seas, or turned to dust by drought, where will they go?" he asked.
The high-level segment took place on the sidelines of major negotiations underway among 195 countries, who aim to produce a global climate accord that would curb global warming by limiting the use of fossil fuels and the dangerous carbon gases they emit.
The U.N. conference began Nov. 30 and ends Dec. 11. Activists in favor of a climate accord that limits fossil fuels but safeguards the poor have reported major obstacles in the way of any agreement, including over issues of compensating poor countries most impacted by climate change, and the issue of human rights.
"As Pope Francis told world leaders assembled at the United Nations" Sept. 25, "man is not authorized to abuse the environment, much less to destroy it," Cardinal Turkson reminded his audience.
"When the environment is assaulted, the poor, least able to defend themselves, suffer most. We cannot remain blind to the grave damage done to the planet, nor can we remain indifferent to the plight of the millions of people who most bear the burden of such destruction. While no one has the right to condemn people to hopelessness and misery, this all too frequently occurs through destructive actions or culpable indifference," he said.
Cardinal Turkson cited Pope Francis' June 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," which criticizes consumerism and the toll it and irresponsible development have taken on the environment and the poor. The letter calls for a change of heart to protect the earth and all its inhabitants.
"Everything is interconnected, and ... genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others," Cardinal Turkson quoted, listing various challenges he said remained in the face of a just climate agreement, including the integration of the wide range of perceptions the different countries involved in the Paris negotiations had regarding finance, technology, capacity building and environmental science.
"So our scientific and diplomatic task is immense. Please let us not lose ourselves in protecting current narrow interests," he appealed to his audience.
He thanked everyone who had so far spoken out, prayed and pushed for climate justice, in particular the tens of thousands of people across the world he said had joined in climate-change marches and rallies.
"For we all can and indeed must do much better, transforming ourselves by way of an ecological conversion," he said.
"What must unite everyone is a shared ethical framing of the common good and solidarity," he said. "Such virtues are indispensable for any transformation, for any effective commitment to change. It may be that a lack of ethical guidelines and motivation makes the current negotiations more difficult."
The cardinal suggested that nations that have contributed most to greenhouse gas emissions and benefitted most from the industrial period should "now take the lead and contribute more to the solution than those whose standard of living is just beginning to rise."
"May we be guided by a shared vision and fortified by determination and courage in order to secure a fair, legally binding and truly transformational agreement," he said.
Noting that experts had advised that investments in clean energy globally should equal about $2 trillion a year between now and 2030 -- roughly the same as annual military spending worldwide -- the cardinal surmised that "clearly, the issue is not so much 'Can the economy afford it?' as 'What are our priorities?'"
He said what he called "a spirit of genuine and constructive" dialogue was essential at the Paris talks in order to come up with a just climate agreement.
Dialogue, he said, "is the way to be transformative: to rediscover our human dignity and start afresh as brothers and sisters. Through the strengthening of dialogue, we will also discover how to prevent conflict and build peace, and we all know how much climate change can affect peace."
Cardinal Turkson recounted how Pope Francis had urged "for the sake of the common home, of all us and of future generations, in Paris every effort should be aimed at reducing the impact of climate change and, at the same time, at combating poverty and promoting human dignity. The two choices go together: stopping climate change and combating poverty for the flourishing of human dignity."
"We are called to be courageous in taking such important decisions," Cardinal Turkson concluded, "maintaining as a basic criterion for our choices the greater good of the entire human family."