World's Religious Leaders Call on Nations to Set Larger Targets to Reduce Climate Change

Religious leaders from around the world are urging political leaders to set new greenhouse gas emissions targets to reduce the effects of climate change, the Associated Press reported.

Dozens of leaders from major faith groups, including Pope Francis, signed a joint appeal to governments to adopt measures limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday. The appeal also calls on countries responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions to provide "substantial financial support" to the most vulnerable communities.

"Faith and Science: An Appeal for COP26" was signed at a formal ceremony in the Apostolic Palace ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which will take place October 31 through November 12, the AP said.

"We have inherited a garden; we must not leave a desert to our children," the appeal reads.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pope Francis Climate Appeal
Ahead of a U.N. climate conference, dozens of religious leaders from around the world are calling on governments to set new targets to reduce climate change. Above, Pope Francis signs a document on Monday at a Vatican conference. ALESSANDRO DI MEO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

For the religious leaders, care for the environment is a moral imperative to preserve God's creation for future generations and to support communities most vulnerable to climate change.

The conference follows a youth climate summit in Milan last week and an earlier appeal by three Christian leaders: Francis, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

They were joined Monday by leaders of other major faith groups representing Sunni and Shiite Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism and more.

Conspicuously absent was the Dalai Lama. 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.

The Glasgow summit aims to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with a goal of keeping it to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels. The event also is focused on mobilizing financing and protecting vulnerable communities and natural habitats.

Pope Francis is widely expected to attend, though the Vatican hasn't yet confirmed his presence.

The Vatican event was jointly organized by the Holy See and the two countries leading the push ahead of the Glasgow summit: host Britain and Italy, which currently heads the Group of 20. The appeal was crafted over months of discussions among religious leaders and scientists.

Bishop Frederick Shoo, president of the Lutheran Church of Tanzania, quoted Martin Luther in describing his vocation to plant trees on Mount Kilimanjaro that has earned him the nickname of the "tree bishop."

"Even if I knew I would die tomorrow...I would plant a tree today," Shoo said, paraphrasing the 16th-century Luther, who broke away from the Catholic Church.

Francis arrived in the Hall of Blessings with Bartholomew at his side, and then greeted each of the delegates as a string quartet played Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Usually, Francis goes maskless inside the Vatican, but he donned a face mask Monday, as did the other delegates.

He had been scheduled to read a lengthy speech but gave just a brief welcome and then left the floor to others, starting off with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar center for Sunni learning in Cairo. Al-Tayyeb urged young Muslims and religious scholars to "carry out their religious duty" by taking responsibility for the crisis.

The event was a global gathering of faith leaders, almost all of them male, including some who rarely are in the same room because of long-standing theological differences. But there was the Istanbul patriarch, Bartholomew, calling for continued dialogue as he signed a joint appeal alongside Patriarch Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church, who used his two-minute speech to call for repentance for all the damage already done.

"It shall be remembered that the current ecological situation has been caused, among other factors, by the desire of some to profit at the expense of others as well as by the desire of unjust enrichment," Hilarion said.

For their own part, they vowed to promote environmentally aware educational and cultural initiatives and to urge their faithful to lead more sustainable lifestyles.

In his speech, Welby said over the past 100 years, humanity had "declared war" on creation and must now repent by not only building a green economy but by bringing justice to the global south.

"I have run out of time," Welby said at the end of his speech. "The world has just enough time to get this right."

Religious Leaders Climate Appeal
Pope Francis and Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, arrive for a conference at the Vatican on Monday. Alessandro Di Meo/Pool via AP