ROME — The world's top Christian leaders — Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians — on Tuesday issued a joint appeal for delegates at the upcoming U.N. climate summit to "listen to the cry of the Earth" and make sacrifices to save the planet.
In their first-ever joint statement, the three Christian clerics said the coronavirus pandemic gave political leaders an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the global economy and make it more sustainable and socially just for the poor.
"We must decide what kind of world we want to leave to future generations," said the statement from Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of the Anglican Communion and the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
But in the statement, they also noted that the threat is no longer far off.
"The extreme weather and natural disasters of recent months reveal afresh to us with great force and at great human cost that climate change is not only a future challenge, but an immediate and urgent matter of survival," they said.
The statement sought to give a sense of urgency to the upcoming U.N. climate summit, which Francis at least is expected to attend in person. The conference, known as COP26, is scheduled for early November in Glasgow, Scotland.
"This is the first time that the three of us feel compelled to address together the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on persistent poverty, and the importance of global cooperation," they wrote.
Individuals have a role to play, but leaders bear the greatest responsibility to take courageous decisions in Glasgow, the statement said.
"We say: choose people-centered profits; make short-term sacrifices to safeguard all our futures; become leaders in the transition to just and sustainable economies."
The statement was dated Sept. 1, when their churches celebrate the world day for the care of creation. There was no official explanation for why it was released a week late, though the Vatican is essentially closed for business in August, suggesting summer holidays might have been to blame.
While the joint statement was a first, Francis has frequently cited Bartholomew's teachings on the environment, including in his landmark 2015 environmental encyclical "Praised Be." Welby, a former oil executive, has spoken out about the moral crisis of climate change though his Church of England has declined to divest fully from carbon-intensive companies arguing that it can force greater change on the fossil fuel industry as a shareholder.