POPE TURNS UP THE HEAT ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION


CLASSIFIED BY: Rafael Foley, Pol Chief.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (SBU) Summary: Pope Benedict addressed the opening of the
World Food Summit urging leaders to care for the world's hungry
and protect the environment. Similarly, at the UN General
Assembly, the Vatican nuncio stressed the need for a
comprehensive international energy policy that protects the
environment and limits climate change. Meanwhile Vatican
officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified
crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding
the hungry, but -- at least for now -- are unwilling to
challenge bishops who disagree. End Summary.

2. (U) In remarks at the opening of the World Food Security
Summit in Rome on November 16th, Pope Benedict devoted over one
third of his speech to the link between food security and
environmental degradation. The Pope stressed that states have
an obligation to future generations to reduce environmental
degradation. Citing the probable link between environmental
destruction and climate change, he stated that protecting the
environment requires "change in the lifestyles of individuals
and communities, in habits of consumption and in perceptions of
what is genuinely needed." Benedict urged the international
community to promote development while safeguarding the planet.

3. (SBU) The Pope also stated that access to "sufficient,
healthy and nutritious" food is a fundamental right upheld by
the Catholic Church. Linking development with use of
agricultural technologies (i.e., biotechnologies), Benedict
stressed good governance and further infrastructure development
as essential to increasing food security over the long-term.
(Note: Benedict's mention of agricultural technologies is a
small but significant step towards more vocal Vatican support
of biotechnologies. End Note)

4. (C) In a separate meeting November 11, Poloff spoke with
Monsignor James Reinert, the point person on food security and
biotechnology at the Vatican's Council of Justice and Peace - a
Vatican think tank on social issues . Reinert said the Vatican
agrees that countries must be empowered to increase domestic
agricultural production and that genetically modified crops
(GMOs) have a role in this process, but not everybody in the
Church is comfortable with them. The Vatican cannot force all
bishops to endorse biotechnology, he said, particularly if their
opposition has to do with concerns over protecting profits
oflarge corporations who hold the patents for the crops, versus
feeding the hungry. In the Philippines, he noted, bishops
strongly protested GMOs in the past. (Note: South African
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier's November 16 comments to a news
agency that "Africans do not need GMOs, but water" is another
example of specific Church leaders skeptical about the potential
benefits of new biotechnologies. End note.).


5. (U) Comment: The Vatican is publicly stressing in various
fora the need to care for the environment in the run-up to the
Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. Pope Benedict places caring
for the environment ("the creation") as a central social,
economic and moral issue to his papacy. The Pope's proposal to
curb environmental degradation is for people everywhere to
reject excessive materialism and consumerism. In the Vatican's
view, unsustainable lifestyles in developed countries--and not
population growth worldwide--is to blame for global warming.
Vatican officials claim that the planet has the capacity to feed
and sustain its expanding population, provided resources are
properly distributed and waste controlled. Until recently,
Vatican officials often noted that the countries that released
most of the greenhouse gases were not the world's most populous.
As China and India industrialize and release more greenhouse
gases, however, the Vatican may find it more difficult to blame
climate change on lifestyles only. Even as this happens,
however, the Vatican will continue to oppose aggressive
population control measures to fight hunger or global warming.

6. (SBU) While the Vatican's message on caring for the
environment is loud and clear, its message on biotechnologies
is still low-profile (ref. b). Quietly supportive, the Church
considers the choice of whether to embrace GMOs as a technical
decision for farmers and governments.
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