Pope Francis called on world leaders Friday to take real and immediate action to address a long list of issues posing a threat to humanity, including environmental destruction, global poverty, the refugee crisis, the war on drugs, and nuclear proliferation.
"We cannot permit ourselves to postpone 'certain agendas' for the future," the pope said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly. "The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of worldwide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need."
The remarks came as more than 150 world leaders attending the UNGA gathered for the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, where they will adopt a set of goals that includes ending global poverty and hunger, protecting the environment, and more.
"Across the global agenda, his holiness is a resounding voice of conscience," Ban said.
The pope, in New York as part of his first visit to the United States, said all mankind has a right to the environment but “is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”
And he urged more international intervention to stop the suffering of those at the center of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, who he said face the choice of either “fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.”
The pontiff continued, "In wars and conflicts, there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer, and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies, and disagreements.”
He cited an "urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons." And he called for the world's leaders to provide its people with the "minimum spiritual and material needs to live in dignity" and access to education, including for "girls who are excluded in certain places."
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, praised the pope's commitment to eradicating poverty and to securing girls' right to education worldwide.
"Having Pope Francis as a champion in the fight against extreme poverty is a boost for women and children everywhere. As a Catholic, I’m proud to stand with Pope Francis as he calls for an end to poverty and for recognizing the fundamental dignity of women and girls," Gates wrote in an email.
Pope Francis also touched on the global war on drugs, calling it "another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people."
He said, "Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic, and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions."
The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.
"I applaud the pope for mentioning that the war on drug trafficking was 'poorly fought,' but without more context, it can be read either way. Should it be 'better fought,' or is it drug prohibition itself that generates the vast sums of money used to corrupt institutions? I hope he will elaborate further when he meets with an incarcerated marijuana dealer in Philadelphia," Tree told Refinery29 in an email.
Pope Francis will meet with inmates and their families at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Sunday during his trip to Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press.
Friday's focus on the environment was the latest call in an ongoing papal push to bring more attention to issues of climate change and sustainability. He said Friday that though the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the upcoming U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Paris are signs of hope, "solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions."
Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, agreed that international agreements "must be followed by action," including the "complete phase-out" of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources.
“Pope Francis has once again reminded world leaders that alleviating poverty and preserving the environment are part of the same struggle," Naidoo said in a statement. "As a global community, we must remedy the fundamental injustice of climate change: that those least responsible for causing it are being impacted the most."
His unequivocal condemnation of war, crime, and nuclear weapons drew praise from human-rights activists.
Pope Francis has once again reminded world leaders that alleviating poverty and preserving the environment are part of the same struggle.
"Combined with his sharp rejection of the war on terror — in his words, the recognition that 'to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place' — the all-sided rejection of militarism was an unexpected gift to those fighting for diplomacy over war," she wrote in an email.
Proponents of debt forgiveness were also impressed by the pope's assertion that revised lending practices could help end the cycle of poverty.
"Pope Francis is right to highlight the role of irresponsible lenders in causing debt crises. People across the world, from Greece to Ghana, Jamaica to El Salvador, are suffering because of unpayable and unjust debt burdens," Tim Jones, policy officer at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, told Refinery29 in an email.
"Major changes are needed to the global financial system to cancel unjust and unpayable debts, and control lenders to prevent such debt burdens being created again in the future," Jones added.
Following the U.N. address, the pope was scheduled to visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and a school in Harlem before leading an evening mass at Madison Square Garden.