LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The head of Scotland’s Catholic international development agency said he was “gutted” that Pope Francis will not be attending the United Nations COP26 climate conference.

Pope Francis was expected to attend the November conference, although a papal trip had never officially been confirmed. The Vatican on Friday announced Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, would lead the Holy See’s delegation to the event.

Alistair Dutton, the Director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, said the announcement was “an enormous disappointment for everyone who had hoped that Pope Francis would inspire world leaders to really grasp the nettle and tackle the climate emergency.”

The COP26 meeting is the fifth UN climate meeting since the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015. Pope Francis wrote his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ ahead of that meeting in an effort to influence world leaders to take the threat of climate change seriously.

“Pope Francis has always been clear that we all have an urgent collective responsibility to tackle the climate crisis. While he won’t be in Glasgow to look them in the eye, his teaching stands as a clear moral call not to shirk their responsibilities for all peoples and the planet that is our common home,” Dutton said.

He added the Argentine pontiff “has always been a vocal champion of those on the frontline of the climate crisis,” adding that Catholics must ensure that their voices are front and center at COP26.

“It is the world’s poorest who are facing devasting consequences, like droughts and floods, that are driving them from their homes, robbing them of their food and plunging them ever deeper into extreme poverty,” Dutton said.

“But it’s not all doom and gloom. From SCIAF’s work around the world we know how communities are tackling the effects of climate change. With real global ambition we can turn the tide, and we must do so at COP26.”