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Pope Francis says deforestation must be seen as global threat

Pope Francis made his appeal on a visit to Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, which research institutes and aid agencies say has lost about 44% of its forest over the past 60 years

Pope Francis. Picture: @VaticanNews/Twitter

ANTANANARIVO – Pope Francis said on Saturday rapid deforestation and reduction in biodiversity in individual countries should not be treated as local issues since they threaten the future of the whole planet.

Francis made his appeal on a visit to Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, which research institutes and aid agencies say has lost about 44% of its forest over the past 60 years, abetted by illegal exports of rosewood and ebony.

Francis zeroed in on endemic corruption, linking it with equally endemic poverty as well as with illegal poaching and exportation of natural resources.

In remarks to a gathering of Madagascar government leaders, Francis said some were profiting from excessive deforestation, adding: “The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home.”

Following recent huge fires in the Amazon region, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejected international criticism about his policy to expand farmland, saying it was a domestic issue.

“The last forests are menaced by forest fires, poaching, the unrestricted cutting down of valuable woodlands. Plant and animal biodiversity is endangered by contraband and illegal exportation,” Pope Francis said.

Jobs must be created to wean those engaged in work that is harmful to the environment, so that they will not see it as their only means of survival, the pontiff said in his remarks to President Andry Rajoelina and his cabinet.

“There can be no true ecological approach or effective efforts to safeguard the environment without the attainment of a social justice capable of respecting the right to the common destination of the Earth’s goods, not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come.”

Recent massive fires in the Amazon have lent new urgency to Francis’s calls to protect nature, tackle climate change and promote sustainable development - all themes enshrined in his 2015 encyclical on environmental protection.

Madagascar is one of world’s poorest countries. The UN Nations World Food Program estimates that more than 90% of its population of 26 million live on less than $2 a day, with chronic child malnutrition widespread.

Also chronic is corruption, Transparency International says.

Francis urged Madagascar’s leaders “to fight with strength and determination all endemic forms of corruption and speculation that increase social disparity, and to confront the situations of great instability and exclusion that always create conditions of inhumane poverty”.

During his first stint in power, Rajoelina’s cash-strapped administration presided over a big spike in deforestation to supply rosewood and ebony to China despite a national ban on such exports, conservation groups say.

Environmental campaign group TRAFFIC estimates that at least one million rosewood logs had been illegally exported from Madagascar since 2010.

At the end of Rajoelina’s first term, a large unexplained stash of rosewood was found at the presidential palace, according to a draft European Parliament resolution in 2017.

As Asian supplies of valuable hardwoods like rosewood used to make luxury furniture have been depleted, Chinese importers have shifted to Africa, according to Chinese customs data cited by US-based non-profit group Forest Trends.

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