The Vatican’s representative at the United Nations told the U.N. General Assembly last week that environmental concerns such as rising sea levels are contributing decisively to international armed conflicts and must be addressed with urgency.
The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N., Archbishop Bernardito Auza, cited reports making the remarkable claim that “in the last 60 years, at least forty percent of all inter-state conflicts can be associated with natural resources.”
“Not only that exploitation of high-value resources — like timber and precious minerals, or scarce ones like fertile land and water — provoke conflicts,” the archbishop said, but “conflicts, in turn, put immense pressure on those treasured natural resources, as they are exploited as means in waging conflicts.”
“In other words, we fight over the ever-more scarce resources of our planet, and exploit the same resources to continue our fights,” he said.
The Vatican, led by Pope Francis, has made environmental concern a key prism through which to view other social and ethical issues.
In this regard, Archbishop Auza praised the International Law Commission for addressing the topic “Sea-level rise in relation to international law,” which was seconded by the United Nations General Assembly.
The “topic of sea-level rise demands more than a mere legal approach,” Auza said, as a part of “protecting the environment in relation to armed conflict.”
“My Delegation believes an integrated ethical approach will not only highlight the real-life consequences of rising sea levels as well as of the armed conflicts-natural resources nexus, but also provide the international community with guidance on how to develop an appropriate legal response,” he said.
“In the case of sea-level rise, it is clear that discussions on marine and coastal ecosystems must take into account the men and women who rely on them, since the human and the natural environment flourish or deteriorate together,” Auza said.
“For example, the depletion of fishing reserves due to changes in sea level have a detrimental economic and social impact on small fishing communities,” he added.
The archbishop said that his remarks stem from the call of Pope Francis for an “integral ecology,” one “which clearly respects the human and social dimensions of nature.”
“An ethical approach to the challenges posed by sea-level rise and the armed conflicts-natural resources nexus must also respect the rights and needs not only of the present generation, but also of future generations, requiring nothing less than intergenerational solidarity,” he said.
In 2015, Francis became the first pope in history to devote an entire encyclical letter to the care for the environment with the publication of Laudato Si (“Praised Be”), in which he urged Christians to become more ecologically aware.
In that text, the pontiff said that the earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” as “once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”
He also denounced a failure to recycle paper and other resources, while calling climate change “a global problem with grave implications” and “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
Citing “scientific studies,” the pontiff said that “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”
“Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies,” he warned.