The Papal Encyclical will contribute to the debate on climate change and sustainability, both of which are key factors in achieving food and nutrition security, and thus touch on critical aspects of FAO's work and mandate. In a brief conversation before his address to the FAO Conference, the Pope underscored the importance of publicly discussing his next encyclical as widely as possible. FAO will be part of this effort. As the neutral international forum for food and agriculture, FAO opens its doors to this debate with the hope that it will strengthen and expand the efforts already in place to curb climate change.
As the Pope insisted throughout his address to the FAO Conference, all of us – and "all of us" is much more than any specific Organization! - need to act, but he noted that many times we prefer to delegate or wait for someone else to take action.
He welcomed the fall in hunger, but warned us that it was of little use to count the number of hungry people if we neglect the obligation to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide.
Pope Francis spoke of food waste and challenged us to ask "What can we do?" and "What am I already doing?" These are the questions that every person, every government and organization must ask to fight not only food waste, but also climate change and hunger. At FAO, we ask ourselves these questions every day and as we find responses we sharpen our priorities and adjust our work to become more effective. A key element identified for FAO by Pope Francis was the need to further strengthen its field presence, so as "to be present in the midst of the rural world and to understand the needs of the people that the Organization is called upon to serve".
We must transform words into action, keeping the poor and hungry at the center of our efforts. There is no doubt in my mind that we can successfully tackle climate change, for example, but that is not enough: "We must guarantee increasingly healthy environmental conditions, but can we continue to do this by excluding someone?" asks the Pope. And the answer is no: we cannot call development sustainable if millions are left behind, excluded from the opportunity of a decent life by poverty and hunger. That is the commitment we made at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference and it is at the heart of the SDGs that the global community will adopt later this year.
The challenges the world faces today are sometimes so big and so many that they can scare us into inaction or nudge us into looking only at our immediate surroundings or our immediate needs. We need to resist the temptation to do both.