Vatican to host interfaith appeal ahead of climate change summit

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ROME – Ahead of a keenly anticipated UN summit on climate change in Glasgow, roughly 40 representatives of different religious traditions are expected to sign an appeal this week at the Vatican insisting on urgent action from political leaders to protect the world’s environment.

Brought together through a joint effort from the Holy See and the embassies of England and that of Italy to the Holy See, the religious leaders hope to inspire a renewed commitment ahead of the COP21 summit, to be held in Glasgow this November.

“For us at the British Embassy to the Holy See it’s really exciting to be part of the preparation for this year’s COP meeting,” said Christopher Trott, the new British ambassador to the Vatican, on Friday. “We were very glad to be able to work with our colleagues in the Italian and Holy See in bringing together a wide group of faith leaders in advance of COP to think about the role of faith leaders in messaging to our political leaders about the importance of this COP meeting.”

During the past seven months, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrian, Taoist, Christians and leaders of Confucianism and Jainism, among others, met virtually once a month to pen a statement that will be hand delivered to COP26 President-Designate Hon Alok Sharma, and Italian Minister of Foreign Afairs, Luigi Di Maio. The UK and Italy are co-chairs of the Glasgow summit.

Scientists were involved in the drafting of the appeal, but will not be among the signatories.

Trott said his predecessor, former Ambassador Sally Axworthy, and others who started planning Monday’s meeting saw the real impact Francis made ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris in 2015.

Trott said the objective of the statement is to be as influential as possible, and religious leaders of traditions that don’t always see eye-to-eye — for instance, Sunni and Shia Muslims, or the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople — could all make an appearance, though the full list has not been released by organizers, due, among other things, to possible last-minute changes due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Most of those who will sign the appeal will do so in person, in the Vatican’s Aula della Benedizione, but some participants, who cannot travel because they’re from nations currently on the “red list” of Italy’s foreign ministry due to high numbers of coronavirus cases, will join through the internet.

“We brought these faith leaders together and they have spent the last six to seven months talking about climate, talking about the challenges that we face as a global population in advance of decisions that will be made in COP,” Trott said.

“I was very struck in that discussion about the commonalities among these different faith leaders in their approach and the way they think about our responsibility for the planet. Whether or not it’s a creation story, as you would find in the Abrahamic religions, there is an absolute sense that we don’t own this planet, it’s not ours to do with as we wish, but rather that we are temporary tenants and we are required to pass this planet on to future generations in a state of wellbeing.”

Preparations for the interreligious appeal came as an attempt to “step up” efforts made by religious leaders, as Pope Francis helped accomplish with his encyclical Laudato Si’ ahead of the Paris agreement back in 2015.

“Our hope is that likewise at COP in Glasgow, the appeal that is coming out Monday will be borne in mind by world leaders as they sit down and negotiate the outcome in Glasgow,” the ambassador told a group a Rome-based reporters. “We’re extremely honored that the Holy Father himself will be associated with this agreement and we are pleased that the chairs of the COP meeting will be here and will be present on Monday in order to hear the appeal.”

Though yet unconfirmed by the Vatican, it’s expected that Pope Francis will attend the summit in Glasgow.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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