Vatican Indicates Pope Francis Will Not Attend UN Climate Summit in Glasgow

Pope Francis’ holds his general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican Oct. 6.
Pope Francis’ holds his general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican Oct. 6. (photo: Vatican Media / National Catholic Register)

Pope Francis will not attend the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the Vatican indicated on Friday.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, said on Oct. 8 that the Vatican’s delegation to the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) would be led by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The Vatican never officially acknowledged the possibility that the Pope would take part in the Nov. 1-12 event.

But Pope Francis noted in an interview with Spain’s COPE radio station aired on Sept. 1 that he hoped to travel to Scotland to take part in the conference.

“It all depends on how I feel at the time. But, in fact, my speech is already being prepared, and the plan is to be there,” he said.

During a visit to the Vatican in May, John Kerry, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, said that the Pope “intends to attend” the event.

Kerry met with Pope Francis privately on May 15. In a video clip released by the Vatican, Kerry could be heard telling members of his staff, “first day he’ll be there with the heads of state.”

In July, a spokesperson for Scotland’s bishops’ conference welcomed the Pope’s prospective visit.

“The Pope will be in Scotland for a very short time, most of which will be spent participating in the COP26 conference,” the spokesperson said.

“While many pastoral, ecumenical and interfaith gatherings would be desirable while he is with us, time constraints, sadly, mean such a full program will not be possible.”

The statement was issued as the 84-year-old Pope recuperated in the hospital following a surgery on his colon. 

“Having written to the Holy Father to assure him of a warm welcome, should he attend the conference, they are delighted to hear that he does hope to attend and would be glad to meet with them in Glasgow,” the spokesperson said.

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 will encourage governments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Pope issued an unprecedented joint message on the environment on Sept. 7, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic head of the global Anglican Communion, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Pope Francis and religious leaders from across the world appealed on Monday for countries to “achieve net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

On Thursday, he launched a degree course on ecology and the environment at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

The Pope’s future travel plans are uncertain, with unconfirmed reports that he could visit Cyprus and Greece in December, and Lebanon early next year.

Speaking ahead of his September trip to Hungary and Slovakia, the Pope told COPE that since his election in 2013, he had chosen to visit “small countries in Europe.”

He said: “Now Slovakia is on the program, then Cyprus, Greece and Malta. I wanted to take that option: first to the smaller countries.”