Vatican City: Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders on Monday signed a joint appeal to governments to commit to ambitious targets at the upcoming UN climate conference while promising to do their own part to lead their faithful into more sustainable behaviour.

“We have inherited a garden; we must not leave a desert to our children,” said the appeal, which was signed at a formal ceremony in the Apostolic Palace before being handed over to the head of the COP26 conference, Alok Sharma.

For religious leaders, care for the environment is a moral imperative to preserve God’s creation for future generations and to support communities most vulnerable to climate change. It’s an argument Francis has made repeatedly and most comprehensively in a 2015 encyclical, ‘Praised Be’.

Faith and Science: An Appeal for COP26 is the latest initiative to rally momentum and outrage ahead of the October 31-November 12 summits in Glasgow, Scotland that experts say is a make-or-break chance to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It follows the youth summit in Milan last week and an earlier appeal by three Christian leaders: Francis, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

They were joined Monday by leaders of other major faith groups representing Sunni and Shiite Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism and more.

Conspicuously absent was the Dalai Lama. The Vatican has excluded the Tibetan spiritual leader from interfaith events for years to not antagonise China, and an appeal seeking to be heard by a top polluter like Beijing is no exception.

The Glasgow summit aims to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius with a goal of keeping it to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The event also is focused on mobilising financing and protecting vulnerable communities and natural habitats.

Pope Francis is widely expected to attend, though the Vatican hasn’t yet confirmed his presence.

The Vatican event was jointly organised by the Holy See and the two countries leading the push ahead of the Glasgow summit: host Britain and Italy, which currently heads the Group of 20.

Francis arrived in the Hall of Blessings with Bartholomew at his side, and then greeted each of the delegates as a string quartet played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons”. Usually, Francis goes maskless inside the Vatican, but he donned a face mask Monday, as did the other delegates.

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