Pope Francis on Wednesday said he would attend the crucial COP28 climate talks starting in Dubai on November 30, weeks after warning that time is running out to act on global warming.
It will be the first time a pope has attended a COP meeting in person since the process began in 1995.
“I will go to Dubai. I think that I will leave on December 1 through the 3rd. I’ll spend three days there,” the pontiff told Italy’s Rai 1 television.
The 86-year-old has made the environment one of the main themes of his papacy since being elected pope by cardinals in 2013.
In early October, Francis published an update on his landmark thesis of the devastation of human-induced climate change that he released eight years ago, warning some damage was “already irreversible”.
The new papal text, “Laudate Deum” (Praise to God), was a follow-up to the 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si” (“Praise Be To You”).
“Laudato Si” ran to almost 200 pages and was aimed not just at the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, but everyone on the planet, a call to global solidarity to act together to protect “our common home”.
With that document, he placed himself — and the Church — firmly behind the science on blaming human behaviour for climate change.
In “Laudate Deum”, he said the world’s responses to global warming “have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point”.
But he said the Dubai talks “can represent a change of direction”, if participants make binding agreements on moving from fossil fuels to clean energy sources such as wind and solar.
Only a real commitment to change “can enable international politics to recover its credibility”, he wrote.
– ‘Suicidal’ to abandon hope –
The pope met Sultan Al Jaber, the president-designate of the COP28 talks, at the Vatican on October 11.
The appointment of Jaber — who is head of Emirati energy giant ADNOC — has drawn criticism from environmentalists, who denounce the role of the hydrocarbon sector in global warming.
In his text last month, Francis referenced concerns about the UN talks being held in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, noting that while it was a “great exporter of fossil fuels” it also made “significant investments” in renewable energy sources.
“To say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change,” wrote Francis.
The trip to Dubai will be the 45th overseas visit by the pope since he was elected — and the seventh country he has visited this year.
He has said he needs to slow down, however, after suffering a series of health issues in recent years.
The Argentine pontiff underwent a hernia operation under general anaesthetic in June, two years after having surgery on his colon.
He also suffers from knee pain which forces him to use a wheelchair.