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Pope Calls for Action to Avert Environmental Disaster

With Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, right, looking on, Pope Francis signs the visitors book at the United Nations regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26, 2015.

Pope Francis took his message of caring for the planet to the offices of the U.N. Environment Program in Nairobi on Thursday and called for immediate action to stem climate change and protect the environment.

"In this international context, we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment,” the pontiff said in his address at the U.N. compound.

Francis urged that selfish interests be put aside.

“In a few days, an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris. ... It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good,” he said.

Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, agreed with Francis' desire to reach a sustainable agreement at the climate summit in Paris, which begins Monday.

“That approach has embedded climate change into the global consciousness," he said. "Not just the science on harmful emissions and the wasteful practices that contribute to them, but the well-being of a healthy planet that includes justice, equality and solidarity with the most vulnerable in society — the very people who are often the least responsible for the problem but the most affected by the consequences.”

The pope called for action against poaching and illegal mineral exploitation in Africa and for "a new energy system," reducing fossil fuel use to the minimum and rethinking "the current model of development."

Participants in the Paris conference hope to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, a binding and agreement on climate involving all the nations of the world.