Religious leaders plead for rapid climate action at COP26

Dozens of prominent religious figures from around the globe meet at the Vatican to demand world leaders take immediate moves.

Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Pope Francis were among 40 faith figures telling world leaders to act meaningfully on the climate emergency [File: Alberto Pizzoli via Reuters]

Dozens of religious leaders appealed to governments to commit to ambitious targets at the upcoming UN climate conference, which has been described by scientists as the last chance to act meaningfully to halt global warming before it is too late.

The call for urgent climate action was echoed on Monday by imams, rabbis, patriarchs and reverends who shared how their faith traditions interpreted the emergency, many insisting religion and science must act together to save the planet.

“Faith and Science: An Appeal for COP26” was the latest initiative to rally momentum and outrage before the October 31-November 12 summit in Glasgow, Scotland that experts say is a make-or-break chance to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“I call on all young people, regardless of their religion, to be ready to fight against any action that damages the environment or increases the climate crisis,” said Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

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

Several participants stressed no nation could go it alone.

“If one nation sinks, we all sink,” said Rajwant Singh, a Sikh leader from the United States.

“Water is the father, air is the teacher, and Earth is our common mother. Just as we don’t dishonour our mother, father, and teacher – why would we dishonour these gifts from our creator?”

‘Substantial financial support’

About 40 religious leaders gathered at the Vatican in Rome at the meeting called by Pope Francis before the COP26 meeting. Leaders of major faith groups representing Sunni and Shia Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism and more attended.

“We have inherited a garden; we must not leave a desert to our children,” said an appeal signed by those who gathered before handing it over to the head of the COP26 conference, Alok Sharma.

In the appeal, the religious figures urged political leaders to adopt measures to limit temperature rise to 1.5C (2.7F), and for rich countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to provide “substantial financial support” to most vulnerable communities.

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.

‘Heal our home’

Pope Francis 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 Ahmed. He urged young Muslims and religious scholars to “carry out their religious duty” by taking responsibility for the crisis.

The Istanbul Patriarch Bartholomew called for continued dialogue as he signed the 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.

The appeal urged all governments to adopt plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible with wealthier countries taking the lead.

“We plead with the international community gathered at COP26 to take speedy, responsible, and shared action to safeguard, restore, and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies