ROME (AP) — Pope Francis said Wednesday that he will travel to Dubai in early December for the COP28 conference of climate change, a global challenge that he had deeply worried about during his papacy stressing care for the environment.
Francis announced the trip during a 45-minute-long interview on Italian television network RAI. “I believe I depart on the first (of December) and stay till the 3rd,” the pontiff said. “I’ll be there 3 days.”
Francis offered no details of his trip’s program, including any appearance at the conference. It seemed likely he would want to address the delegates, especially because of the attention he has paid since becoming pope in 2013 to raising concern about the gravity of environmental damage, especially to poor people.
The travel comes about two weeks before his 87th birthday. When asked about his health — after setbacks that included abdominal surgery just a few months ago to repair a hernia and remove intestinal scarring — Francis quipped in reply in what has become his standard line — “Still alive, you know.”
He described two abdominal surgeries he has undergone during his papacy. Francis sounded upbeat when he said his chronically bum knee was improving. The pontiff uses a wheelchair to navigate long distances during public appearances and hobbles when he does walk.
The international climate conference in Dubai begins on Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 12.
Francis has made the need for urgent care for the environment a hallmark priority of his papacy, penning a landmark encyclical about the Earth’s devastated natural resources in 2015.
In a sign of his frustration over often sputtering efforts by countries to try to put the brakes on climate change’s advance, last month, the pope shamed and challenged world leaders to commit to binding targets to slow the change before it’s too late.
Asked in the interview about the setbacks to climate goals, Francis replied: “Courage is needed.”
“We’re still in time to stop it” by demonstrating “a little responsibility.” He added: “We’ve been ugly, ugly here in caring for Creation.”
In the distinctly bleak update to the 2015 encyclical, Francis warned that God’s increasingly warming creation is fast reaching a “point of no return.” He heightened alarm about the “irreversible” harm to people and planet already underway and lamented that once again, the world’s poor and most vulnerable are paying the highest price.
The Dubai edition is the latest in a series of COP meetings on the impact of climate change and on measures pledged by governments to deal with it, including limits on involving greenhouse-gas producing activity. The first Conference of the Parties, as COP is formally called, was held in 1995 in Berlin, and the gathering has since been held in various cities and on different continents.