VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI denounced the failure of world leaders to agree to a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen last month, saying Monday that world peace depends on safeguarding God's creation.
He issued the admonition in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, an annual appointment during which the pontiff reflects on issues the Vatican wants to highlight to the diplomatic corps.
Benedict has been dubbed the "green pope" for his increasingly vocal concern about protect the environment, an issue he has reflected on in encyclicals, during foreign trips and most recently in his annual peace message. Under Benedict's watch, the Vatican has installed photovoltaic cells on its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity and has joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.
For the pontiff, it's a moral issue: Church teaching holds that man must respect creation because it's destined for the benefit of humanity's future.
In his speech, the pontiff criticized the "economic and political resistance" to fighting environmental degradation that was exemplified in the negotiations to draft a new climate treaty at last month's summit in Copenhagen.
Officials from 193 countries met at the summit, which ended Dec. 19 having failed to produce a successor treaty to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It produced instead a nonbinding accord that included few concrete steps to combat global warming.
The Copenhagen summit did set up the first significant program of ensuring aid to help poorer nations cope with the effects of a changing climate. But while the accord urged deeper cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, it did nothing to demand them.
"I trust that in the course of this year ... it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question," Benedict said.
Benedict didn't name countries responsible for bogging down negotiations, but he listed as the victims island nations at risk of rising seas and Africa, where the battle for natural resources, increased desertification and over-exploitation of land has resulted in wars.
"To cultivate peace, one must protect creation!" Benedict told the ambassadors, many of whom wore their national dress or medal-draped formal attire for the audience in the frescoed Sala Regia of the Vatican's apostolic palace.
The pontiff said the same "self-centered and materialistic" way of thinking that sparked the worldwide financial meltdown was also endangering creation. To combat it will require a new way of thinking and a new lifestyle — and an acknowledgment that the question is a moral one, he said.
"The protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, inasmuch as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God," he said.
To illustrate his point, the German-born pope recalled the experiences of eastern Europe under the "materialistic and atheistic regimes" of the former Soviet bloc.
"Was it not easy to see the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air?" he asked.
"The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation."
Benedict's theme was similar to the message he issued for the church's World Day of Peace, on Jan. 1, where he argued that climate change and natural catastrophes threaten people's rights to life, food, health — and ultimately peace.
And it was reminiscent of the exhortation to world leaders that he issued ahead of Copenhagen summit, on Dec. 6, in which he called for them to "identify actions that respect creation and promote sustainable development," noting that they would have to adopt "sober and responsible lifestyles" to do so.
"In this sense, to guarantee full success at the conference, I invite all those people of good will to respect God's laws of nature and rediscover the moral dimension of human life," he said at the time.