Outer space is a common heritage of humanity and is destined for the common good, according to Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. His comments came on October 18, 2017, during the Fourth Committee debate on Agenda Item 52, dedicated to “International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space,” at the United Nations in New York.
He noted that as space activities increase, outer space pollution has also escalated. A crisis of the environment on earth or in space means a crisis for humanity, he said, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between the environment and its inhabitants. He called for urgent action to be taken by the international community to combat the increasing problem of space pollution, encouraging the establishment of treaties, guidelines, and agencies that adequately enable and safeguard sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space.
His statement follows.
Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
Seventy-Second Session of the General Assembly, Fourth Committee
Agenda Item 52: International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space
New York, 17 October 2017
This morning, my Delegation delivered a Statement at the First Committee on the necessity of preventing an arms race in outer space. This afternoon, my Delegation would like to focus on the need to take care of our outer space, which is universally recognized as a common heritage of humanity and, as such, destined for the universal common good.
As space activities increase, outer space pollution has also increased at an alarming rate, defiling outer space with debris, chemical effluents, biological contamination and radioactive contamination. As early as 1959, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) already anticipated that space activities would pollute the Earth, thus underlining the need for cooperation between States to protect outer space from contamination.
Indeed, the outer space is fully a part of our comprehensive environment, and thus it deserves as much care as our environment here below. Pope Francis has repeatedly underlined the importance of protecting our environment, “which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.” With their Message to mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on 1 September, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reminded us that “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility… Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”
Pope Francis has set forth principles and actions that should guide our action to protect and care for the environment. To take care of our environment is, first of all, a moral imperative. The environment is a gift entrusted to our responsible stewardship. Among the many considerations that flow from this fundamental principle are intergenerational solidarity and a focus not merely on rights but also on responsibilities. Pope Francis has frequently affirmed that intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but a basic question of justice since the world we have received also belongs to those who follow us. Thus, while care for our environment immediately benefits us, it is also a gift to future generations.  Indeed, the concept of the common good extends to future generations, and outer space as a common heritage of mankind is a common good that we hand on future generations.
Within this broader vision, the environment is not regarded as something separate from us or as a mere setting in which we live. We are in relation to it, included in it and thus in constant symbiotic interaction with it. A crisis of the environment necessarily means a crisis for humanity. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.
In his Intervention to the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September last, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, underlined that “this call for responsible stewardship finds particular urgency before the deteriorating conditions of our common home and an often purely utilitarian worldview concerning the things that surround us.” “This dramatic reality”, Archbishop Gallagher urged, “must lead all of us to take stock of our shared and individual responsibilities. The pressing call and challenge to care for creation invite all of humanity to work without hesitation toward sustainable and integral development,  and toward sustainable, peaceful uses of outer space.
Better norms for the protection of outer space are an imperative. As States are exploiting outer space more and more, there is an urgent requirement for an international effort to combat the increasing problem of space pollution. The present international legal system has yet to respond adequately to this challenge. Various proposals are on the table to address this situation, including the drafting of new treaties and guidelines, and the establishment of an appropriate agency. The Holy See hopes that the development of an international normative system adequate to protect outer space and our Earth from further degradation will not be long in coming, for the health of our planet and for the good of all humanity.
My delegation therefore commends the continued work of COPUOS and the efforts of all those who toil toward the realization of an international legal system adequate to regulate the peaceful uses of outer space and to safeguard for future generations this common heritage of mankind.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis. Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 22 March 2013.
2. Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for 3. Creation, Vatican and Fanar, 1^st September 2017. Cfr. also Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ n. 261; Pope Francis, Letter for the Establishment of the World Day of Prayer for Creation, 6 August 2015.
Cfr. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ n. 159.
4. Ibid. n. 95.
5. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Intervention during the General Debate of the Seventy-Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations General Assembly Hall, 25 September 2017.
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