Caring for our common home

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As His Holiness Pope Francis said in my home city of Quito earlier this month, “God gave the Earth to humanity not only to cultivate but also to nurture”. The message is clear: when the Earth thrives, we thrive with it.

Earth Hour celebrations in Ecuador   © WWF/Actua Verde/Luis VacaEarth Hour celebrations in Ecuador                                             © WWF/Actua Verde/Luis Vaca

Both as President of one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, WWF International, and as a concerned global citizen, I was deeply heartened, humbled and encouraged – like so many fellow environmentalists across the globe – by this groundbreaking encyclical letter, ‘Laudato Sí’  or ‘Praised Be’, released last month.

Like His Holiness, I am profoundly moved and motivated in all I do by the impulse to create a world where all people can thrive – in harmony, both among ourselves and with our living planet, with equity and solidarity. This concept is beautifully summed up in the Encyclical’s subtitle, ‘on care for our common home’.

During Pope Francis’ recent visit to the continent we both call home – starting in my country, Ecuador, and taking in also Bolivia and Paraguay – it struck me again just how urgent this call to action is, and why it matters so much this year more than ever.

Latin America’s economic growth over the last decade has helped to slowly reduce poverty – but rampant urbanization, unsustainable industrialization and the indiscriminate use of land for the production of raw materials, combined with climate change, are causing negative impacts on both social and natural systems. The gap between rich and poor, aggravated by climate change, is evident in our region and across the world. We have much to do to respond to the call of Pope Francis.

This year sees the convergence of a number of events that make 2015 the undisputed year of climate and sustainability action. WWF has a presence in 100 countries around the world, and our staff have been working tirelessly to speak truth to power. To show that climate change and environmental degradation are no longer just scientific issues – they are increasingly moral and ethical issues. Natural resource degradation and climate change affect the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone – especially the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable communities in places like Latin America where the ability to face the impacts of climate change is still limited.

And the Encyclical Laudato Sí: Our Common Home released last month in Rome adds much needed moral reflection to the climate debate. Pope Francis considers damage to the environment as a detriment to our common home that threatens the existence of the planet as we know it and of humans, undermining especially the rights of the most vulnerable and even future generations. But the golden thread – and the kernel of hope and potential – that holds the ideas in the Encyclical together is that we, the people of the world, can and must act on climate change and environmental destruction. This can be done by rediscovering our solidarity with each other, cutting waste, and adopting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

By committing to action – and acting together – we can save the planet and its vibrant diversity of life, and ensure a prosperous future for us all.

Pope Francis urges us to respect our common home and use its riches judiciously and with justice. The Encyclical gives us all an important basis for working together, to influence crucial action by governments ahead of the UN General Assembly in September, which will establish new sustainable development goals, and for COP21 on climate in December in Paris.

It is essential that the attention given to climate change and sustainable development this year translates into real commitments from governments. 2015 must be the year of concrete, fair and far-reaching decisions; the year in which no one can evade action. Not by coincidence is Pope Francis seizing this critical moment in time to contribute his reflections in this regard, also giving voice to the poorest, to ensure they are heard and have a decent future. He is urging us all to care for our one and only common home, for the peace and prosperity of future generations. I hope our region and our world will respond to his call.

Yolanda Kakabadse makes her closing speech at the WWF 2012 annual conference held aboard SS Rotterdam in Rotterdam Harbour. The event also marks WWF Netherlands 50th anniversary. Yolanda Kakabadse is President of WWF International

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