The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will take place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November. COP26 aims to bring world leaders together to boost action towards worsening climate change and other environmental issues. Cardinal Pietro Parolin will be leading the Vatican delegation to COP26, which includes officials from the Secretariat of State and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The tradition of the Catholic Church teaches us to be actively engaged in contemporary issues in order to promote the dignity of life and advocate for the common good, in particular for those who are most vulnerable. For decades, scientists and theologians have identified harms inflicted on the environment have profound consequences for all of life. In recent years, the Church has articulated that responding to both the cries of the Earth and its peoples is central to God’s mission. In 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for our Common Home, in which he urges Catholics and all people of goodwill to move quickly towards transformation and living sustainably with nature’s resources. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has taken up the Pope’s call and invited Australian Catholics to do the same in their 2021-2022 Social Justice Statement: Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.

The statement also affirmed the important role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples play in recognising and modelling the sacred duty to care for Country to ensure its ongoing regeneration. Sabrina Stevens, a Kuku Yalanji and Yidinji woman from Far North Queensland, and Youth Participation Coordinator at Caritas Australia, recently said, ‘Let’s have ecological dialogue, let’s learn new ways of caring and let’s embrace the knowledge that has existed since time immemorial.’

COP26 aims to boost action towards achieving the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement (the Paris Accord), which the world is not currently on track to reach. The Paris Agreement was the first time that all the world's nations agreed to take action towards tackling global warming and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to avoid worsening climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, preferably to 1.5 degrees. Most of the current rise in global temperatures is due to the burning of fossil fuels, used since the Industrial Revolution to power economies. World leaders are therefore being asked to bring ambitious targets to COP26 to both significantly reduce emissions before 2030 and reach global net zero emissions by 2050. Stabilising a safer climate to improve lives worldwide and protect creation is still possible.

In recent months, the Vatican and many branches of the Church have been actively participating in the lead up to COP26. On 1 September (World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation), Pope Francis together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed a joint statement in which they stated:

Together, on behalf of our communities, we appeal to the heart and mind of every Christian, every believer and every person of good will. We pray for our leaders who will gather in Glasgow to decide the future of our planet and its people. Again, we recall Scripture: “choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Dt 30:19). Choosing life means making sacrifices and exercising self-restraint. All of us—whoever and wherever we are—can play a part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and environmental degradation. Caring for God’s creation is a spiritual commission requiring a response of commitment. This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.’

For months, Pope Francis has been in dialogue with scientists, religious and civic leaders sharing their concerns and desires for greater responsibility for the planet and for change. This culminated in a day-long meeting themed, “Faith and Science: Towards COP26”, which was held on 4 October, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi. United by their common concern to ensure the success of the upcoming climate meetings, Pope Francis and the 40 other faith leaders gathered co-signed a statement to officials of the COP26 Climate Change Conference, urging nations to commit to a hopeful and courageous framework at COP26. In the statement, the faith leaders also express their own commitments to seek to protect and invest in communities who are most vulnerable and support faith communities to undertake ongoing formation and action to care for our common home.

In his concluding remarks at the meeting, Pope Francis said that COP26 'represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations.'

In his book, Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (2020), Pope Francis elaborates on the synodal approach adopted by several Vatican synods in recent years, and that of the recent Plenary Council in Australia. The Pope says that synodality involves listening to the voices of all, and ‘holding disagreement’ to enable the development of new agreement at a deeper level. Pope Francis says the synodal approach ‘is something our world now needs badly’ to face the huge challenges that are occurring on many fronts at the same time.

Let us pray for the success of COP26.

About the Laudato Si’ Animators Melbourne Group

The Laudato Si’ Animators Melbourne Group is a network of people who have been meeting since 2018 to promote the Catholic Church’s social teaching on care for God’s creation within the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Our members are drawn from backgrounds in ecological formation, spirituality, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, peace and justice, environmental sustainability in education and healthcare, formation with youth, parish, and mission work. We work collaboratively within Church networks to contribute collectively to God’s mission.

The group welcomes new members to join this important work. For further information please contact Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM on cvaitkunas@columban.org.au.