Pope Francis to COP26: "Now is the time to act, urgently, courageously, and responsibly"

Pope Francis, pictured on April 17, 2013. Mazur/

Pope Francis told world leaders attending a United Nations climate summit on Tuesday that “now is the time to act, urgently, courageously, and responsibly.”

In a message read out at the meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 2, the pope stressed the urgency of efforts to protect the environment.

“Now is the time to act, urgently, courageously and responsibly. Not least, to prepare a future in which our human family will be in a position to care for itself and for the natural environment,” he said in the message delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, head of the Holy See delegation to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Pope Francis has sought to galvanize efforts to protect the environment since his election in 2013. He issued the encyclical Laudato si’ in 2015, ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, which negotiated the Paris Agreement.

The Glasgow summit is encouraging governments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.


In the message dated Oct. 29 and addressed to Alok Sharma, president of COP26, the pope said that he had hoped to attend the meeting held on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, but it “was not possible.”

“As the Glasgow Conference begins, all of us are aware that it has the vital task of demonstrating to the entire international community whether there really exists a political will to devote ... greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigating the negative effects of climate change and assisting the poorer and more vulnerable nations most affected by it,” the pope said.

“At the same time, we realize that this task has to be undertaken in the midst of a pandemic that for almost two years has devastated our human family. COVID-19 has brought immense tragedies in its wake, but it has also taught us that, if we are to succeed in overcoming the pandemic, there is no alternative: all of us must play a part in responding to this challenge.”

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The pope said that the construction of the post-pandemic world must begin with “the recognition of past mistakes.”

“Something similar could be said of our efforts to tackle the global problem of climate change,” he commented. “There is no alternative. We can achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement only if we act in a coordinated and responsible way. Those goals are ambitious, and they can no longer be deferred. Today it is up to you to take the necessary decisions.”

“COP26 can and must offer an effective contribution to the conscientious construction of a future in which daily actions and economic and financial investments can genuinely protect the conditions that ensure a dignified and humane life for the men and women of today and tomorrow, on a ‘healthy’ planet.”

The pope said that the world was facing an “epochal change” in which richer countries had a duty to lead in climate finance, decarbonization, the promotion of a “circular economy,” and helping vulnerable countries mitigate the impact of climate change.

He noted that the Vatican City State was committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.


He also recalled that he and other religious leaders signed a joint message at the Vatican on Oct. 4 appealing for countries to “achieve net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

The pope said: “The wounds inflicted on our human family by the COVID-19 pandemic and the phenomenon of climate change are comparable to those resulting from a global conflict.”

“Today, as in the aftermath of the Second World War, the international community as a whole needs to set as a priority the implementation of collegial, solidary and farsighted actions.”

He went on: “We need both hope and courage. Humanity possesses the wherewithal to effect this change, which calls for a genuine conversion, individual as well as communitarian, and a decisive will to set out on this path.”

“It will entail the transition towards a more integral and integrating model of development, based on solidarity and on responsibility. A transition that must also take into serious consideration the effects it will have on the world of labor.”

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He proposed that countries that used proportionately more natural resources owed an “ecological debt” to vulnerable nations. He also called for renewed attention to forgiveness of the foreign debts owed by developing countries.

“Sadly, we must acknowledge how far we remain from achieving the goals set for tackling climate change. We need to be honest: this cannot continue,” the pope said.

“Even as we were preparing for COP26, it became increasingly clear that there is no time to waste. All too many of our brothers and sisters are suffering from this climate crisis.”

“The lives of countless people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, have experienced its increasingly frequent and devastating effects.”

“At the same time, we have come to realize that it also involves a crisis of children’s rights and that, in the near future, environmental migrants will be more numerous than refugees from war and conflicts.”

Pope Francis concluded by reflecting on the situation of young people.

“The young, who in recent years have strongly urged us to act, will only inherit the planet we choose to leave to them, based on the concrete choices we make today,” he said.

“Now is the moment for decisions that can provide them with reasons for hope and trust in the future.”