VATICAN CITY, July 23, 2015 (ENS) – Climate change is real, it is caused by human activities and humans have a responsiblity to control it, mayors from around the world declared Tuesday during a meeting at the Vatican convened by Pope Francis to fight global warming and human trafficking.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences invited the more than 60 mayors to a two-day conference entitled “Modern slavery and climate change: the commitment of cities” to influence world leaders ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris that opens in November. At the summit governments are expected to agree on a universal, legally-binding treaty governing the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the planet’s rising temperature.

Pope and mayors

Pope Francis with mayors from around the world at the Vatican, July 22, 2015 (Photo courtesy Pontifical Academy of Sciences)

Pope Francis greeted the mayors with an explanation of “Laudato si’,” the encyclical on climate change and the environment that he issued in June.

The pontiff reiterated that care for the environment means, above all, adopting “an attitude of human ecology” and that “Laudato si'” was not simply a “green” but also a social document.

“It seemed to me to be a very fruitful idea to invite the mayors of cities both large and not so large, because one of the things that is most evident when the environment, Creation, is not cared for, is the unfettered growth of cities. It is a worldwide phenomenon … cities become larger but with growing bands of poverty and misery, where the people suffer the effects of environmental neglect.”

The Pope invited the mayors to collaborate with international bodies in order to face the issues of exploitation and human trafficking caused by such migrations.

“We cannot say: the person and Creation, the environment, are two separate entities. Ecology is total, it is human,” Pope Francis said. “This is what I wanted to express in the encyclical ‘Laudato si’ – that you cannot separate humanity from the rest. There is a relationship of mutual impact, and also the rebound effect when the environment is abused.”

“Therefore … I say, ‘no, it is not a green encyclical, it is a social encyclical. Because we cannot separate care for the environment from the social context, the social life of mankind. Furthermore, care for the environment is a social attitude.” Pope Francis told the mayors, according to a transcript of his remarks from the Vatican.

The Pope singled out the mining industry for criticism of its environmental practices and the conscription of human beings. “I refer in particular to human trafficking in the mining sector; slavery in mining remains a major issue,” he said. “Mining also involves the use of certain elements in the purifying of minerals, such as arsenic and cyanide, causing diseases in the population. In this we have a great responsibility.”

“Wars are another element contributing to environmental imbalance,” he said.

The Pope called for the United Nations to bring its influence to bear to solve these linked problems. “I hope that the Paris Summit in November will lead to a basic agreement,” he said. “I have high hopes, and believe that the United Nations must take a greater interest in this phenomenon, especially human trafficking caused by environmental issues, and the exploitation of people.”

He said the participation of mayors is essential to eliminating environmental degradation and human trafficking. “The Holy See may make a good speech before the United Nations, but if the work does not come from the periphery to the centre, it will have no effect; hence the responsibility of mayors and city governors.”

“I thank you and I ask the Lord to grant us the grace of being aware of the problem of the destruction that we ourselves have wrought by failing to care for human ecology, … so we might transform ignorance into culture, and not the contrary.”

Several mayors pledged climate actions for their cities.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans for his city to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. He said local action is necessary to motivate national governments to act on climate change.

“His Holiness, Pope Francis, has awakened people across the globe to the dangers we face as a planet. He brought together mayors from across the globe to upend the status quo by systematically addressing climate change and rise together against income inequality. It was an honor to learn from everyone in attendance,” said Mayor de Blasio on his Facebook page.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee announced that his city will leapfrog its efforts to protect the climate from harmful effects of diesel emissions by phasing out the use of petroleum diesel in the municipal fleet and replacing it with renewable diesel by the end of this year.

“The City of Saint Francis is answering the Pope’s call for local action on global climate change,” said Mayor Lee. “By changing our fleet’s fuel from petroleum to renewable diesel, we’re taking action that is good for the global climate, and at the same time promotes environmental justice in our community by leading to cleaner, healthier air for some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.”

The mayors of Birmingham, Alabama; Boston, Massachusetts; Boulder, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Orleans, Louisiana; Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington signed the declaration along with many Latin American and European mayors.

Adding her name to the list was Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who will host the UN climate change summit in her city in November and December.

The mayors’ declaration calls human trafficking a crime against humanity and commits signatories to developing resettlement and reintegration plans “that avoid involuntary repatriation of trafficked persons.”

On climate, the declaration calls for financial incentives for the adoption of low-carbon and renewable energies and to shift public funding away from the military to “urgent investments” in sustainable development, with rich countries helping those in need.

It says political leaders have a “special responsibility” at the Paris summit to approve a “bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.”

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