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Pope and other faith leaders

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople arrive for the meeting "Faith and Science: Towards COP 26 with religious leaders in the Hall of Benedictions on October 4, 2021 in Vatican City. (Photo: Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

Global Religious Leaders, Scientists Issue Joint Call for 'Radical' Climate Action

"It's really quite unprecedented, isn't it, for so many faith leaders to come together in this way."

Jessica Corbett

Dozens of religious leaders and scientists came together in Vatican City on Monday to demand "urgent, radical, and responsible action" to address the climate emergency and related challenges that threaten humanity and "life on our beautiful common home."

"We have inherited a garden: We must not leave a desert to our children."
—Joint appeal

The interfaith climate meeting, hosted by the Catholic leader Pope Francis, included representatives from Buddhism, Christian denominations, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Shi'a and Sunni Islam, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.

The "Faith and Science: Towards COP 26" event came ahead of the United Nations climate summit set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland at the end of the month. The pope presented faith leaders' joint appeal to COP 26 president-designate Alok Sharma and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio.

"Climate change is a grave threat," the five-page document says. "In the interest of justice and fairness, we advocate for common but differentiated climate action at all levels, from individual behavioral changes to high-level political decision-making processes."

The appeal continues:

The world is called to achieve net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible, with wealthier countries taking the lead in reducing their own emissions and in financing emission reductions from poorer nations. It is important that all governments adopt a trajectory that will limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve these goals of the Paris agreement, the COP 26 summit should deliver ambitious short-term actions from all nations with differentiated responsibilities. There is also an urgent need to deliver action to meet its medium- and long-term commitments.

We beg those nations with the greatest responsibility and present capacity to: step up their climate action at home; fulfill existing promises to provide substantial financial support to vulnerable countries; agree on new targets to enable them to become climate resilient, as well as to adapt to and to address climate change and loss and damage, which is already a reality for many countries.

The faith leaders urge global governments to raise ambitions and international cooperation to "favor a transition to clean energy; adopt sustainable land use practices including preventing deforestation, restoring forests, and conserving biodiversity; transform food systems to become environmentally friendly and respectful of local cultures; end hunger; and to promote sustainable lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production."

Their call for climate action, which emphasizes the importance of protecting and investing marginalized and vulnerable populations, also extends to financial institutions and civil society organizations.

"As leaders and scholars from various religious traditions, we unite in a spirit of humility, responsibility, mutual respect, and open dialogue," the document explains. "This dialogue is not limited to merely the exchange of ideas, but is focused on the desire to walk in companionship, recognizing our call to live in harmony with one another and with nature."

"Nature is a gift, but also a life-giving force without which we cannot exist," the appeal says. "Our faiths and spiritualities teach a duty, individual and collective, to care for the human family and for the environment in which it lives. We are not limitless masters of our planet and its resources."

"We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late. Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity. We have inherited a garden: We must not leave a desert to our children," the document adds. "Scientists have warned us that there might be only one decade left to restore the planet."

Pope Francis, who is reportedly expected to attend the summit in Scotland, echoed the appeal's messages in a Monday address, saying that "openness to interdependence and sharing, the dynamism of love and a call to respect. These are, I believe, three interpretative keys that can shed light on our efforts to care for our common home."

"COP 26 in Glasgow represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations," said Francis, who has repeatedly garnered global attention for his comments on the climate emergency, including in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si'.

Christine Allen, director of CAFOD, the Catholic development agency for England and Wales, told Vatican News on Monday that "it's really quite unprecedented, isn't it, for so many faith leaders to come together in this way. I remember when Pope Francis issued Laudato Si' in 2015; it had a very, very significant impact on world leaders and on the subsequent COP negotiations there, and I'm hoping, as I hope Pope Francis is too, that this current appeal will have a very similar impact because it's really desperately need[ed]."

Sharma, head of the upcoming U.N. conference, also welcomed the joint call—which comes as governments face criticism for inadequate plans to reduce planet-heating emissions.

"I am honored to receive this historic joint appeal as we press for progress towards limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C at COP 26 in just a few weeks' time," Sharma said.

"We must all hear the voices of those most affected by climate change," he added, "and I hope people of faith will continue to be a key part of this dialogue as we work together to drive forward climate action."

While more than 40 figures from various faiths participated in the event and joint call, the Associated Press noted the Dalai Lama was "conspicuously absent," explaining that "the Vatican has excluded the Tibetan spiritual leader from interfaith events for years to not antagonize China, and an appeal seeking to be heard by a top polluter like Beijing is no exception."

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