Pope Francis declared before the United Nations on Friday that there is a fundamental "right of the environment" and that mankind has no authority to abuse it, much less destroy it.
At the General Assembly, the largest gathering of dignitaries in the world, Francis said that the environment is a "fundamental good" in all religions, and that a "selfish and boundless thirst" for power and wealth harms the planet and people alike.
The poor suffer most from misuse of natural resources, he said.
"They are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment," Francis said in Spanish. "They are part of today's widespread and quietly growing culture of waste."
The remarks echoed the pope's call to action on climate change in an encyclical earlier this year, in which he challenged the world, in moral terms, to stop pollution, to carpool and to do without air conditioning.
Francis told the U.N. that the consequences of "irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy" must be cause for reflection.
"The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species," he warned.
The pope also declared that the poor have the right to lodging, labor and land, and that human development "presupposes and requires the right to education — also for girls."
In a reference to abortion, he demanded "absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions," and he said that mankind must recognize a moral law that includes "the natural difference between man and woman."
RELATED: Pope Francis comes to New York City
The United Nations has called for increased access to abortion and contraception.
On his first full day in New York, the pope also planned to lead a prayer service at the Sept. 11 memorial, meet schoolchildren in Harlem, greet as many as 80,000 people in Central Park and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden.
Francis was greeted at the U.N. by Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general. The pope was also expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Arriving at U.N. headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan, the pope blessed the U.N. staff and thanked them for working toward a "united human family."
"You worry about the future of the planet, and what kind of a world we will leave for future generations," he said in English. "But today, and every day, I would ask each of you, whatever your capacity, to care for one another. Be close to one another. Respect one another."
As schoolchildren sang to him, the pope was whisked away through the halls of the U.N., riding on what looked like a golf cart, Ban at his side.
Francis flew to New York on Thursday afternoon after addressing Congress in Washington. There he urged compassion for immigrants and refugees and protection for the environment, and he expressed concern for the state of marriage and the family.
He led an evening prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral and thanked American nuns for their strength: "I love you very much." His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had accused a group of them of straying from church teaching.
The massive security precautions in New York include 37 miles of roadside barriers. The papal visit, coinciding with the U.N. General Assembly, has been called the greatest security operation in American history.