Pope: Plunder, waste mean rich nations have ‘ecological debt’ to pay

VATICAN CITY — Wealthier nations have an “ecological debt” they must pay back to poorer countries by ending food waste, cutting back on nonrenewable energy consumption and investing in sustainable development, Pope Francis said.

“The environment is a collective good” that everyone has the duty to protect — a duty that “demands an effective collaboration within the entire international community,” he told a group of environment ministers from countries belonging to the European Union.

When it comes to formulating environmental policy and goals, leaders must take into account the principles of justice, solidarity and participation, he said during the Sept. 16 meeting.

Greater justice, the pope said, means addressing “ecological debt,” that is, the debt richer countries owe poorer countries because of the huge trade imbalances and “disproportionate use” of natural resources wealthier countries have created.

“We must honor this debt,” he told the ministers, first by “setting a good example.”

Nations must limit considerably their consumption of nonrenewable energy and provide needier countries with resources that promote sustainable development, he said. They must adopt better ways to manage forests, transport and garbage while “seriously addressing the severe problem of food waste.”

The pope encouraged countries to adopt a “circular economy,” which considers the life cycle of finite resources and develops more self-sustaining methods of production and services.

Fighting ecological degradation must be linked to solidarity and fighting poverty, he said, because the poor are more vulnerable in a ravaged environment. This, too, would entail helping poorer communities access the technology and development they need, he said.

Lastly, there needs to be greater participation in the decision-making process so that people who are often marginalized can have a voice, he said.

“On the one hand, science and technology have put unprecedented power in our hands; on the other the correct use of that power presupposes the adoption of a vision” that is more holistic and engages more people in dialogue, he said.

The world is facing a huge “cultural, spiritual and educational challenge,” the pope said. However solidarity, justice and participation are needed in order to “respect our dignity and respect creation.”