Pope Francis looks on during an exclusive interview with Reuters, at the Vatican, July 2, 2022.
Pope Francis looks on during an exclusive interview with Reuters, at the Vatican, July 2, 2022. Reuters / REMO CASILLI

Pope Francis on Thursday called on world leaders to heed the Earth's "chorus of cries of anguish" stemming from climate change, extreme weather and loss of biodiversity.

In a message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, he urged nations to confront climate change with the same attention as global challenges like wars and health crises, saying global warming hurts poor and indigenous populations the most.

Francis said rich countries have an "ecological debt" because it is they who have caused the most environmental pollution over the past two centuries, marring nature's song.

"Tragically, that sweet song is accompanied by a cry of anguish. Or even better: a chorus of cries of anguish. In the first place, it is our sister, mother earth, who cries out. Prey to our consumerist excesses, she weeps and implores us to put an end to our abuses and to her destruction," he wrote.

Emergency services have battled wildfires across swathes of southern Europe amid a brutal heatwaves this week, prompting warnings that the fight against climate change needed to be stepped up.

The appeal came a few days before the pope is due to leave for a trip to Canada, where he will meet with indigenous people in Iqaluit in the Canadian arctic, which is one of the fastest-warming parts of North America.

"Exposed to the climate crisis, the poor feel even more gravely the impact of the drought, flooding, hurricanes and heat waves that are becoming ever more intense and frequent," Francis said.

"Likewise, our brothers and sisters of the native peoples are crying out. As a result of predatory economic interests, their ancestral lands are being invaded and devastated on all sides, provoking a cry that rises up to heaven."

Francis repeated an appeal "in the name of God" that he first made last year to the mining, oil, forestry, real estate and agribusiness industries to "stop destroying forests, wetlands, and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people".

The pope, who in 2015 wrote a major encyclical on environmental protection, said the U.N. COP15 summit on biodiversity, to be held in Canada in December, would be a big opportunity for an agreement to halt the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of species.

He said COP15 could construct a clear ethical basis for the changes needed to save biodiversity, support conservation and give priority to vulnerable populations, including indigenous peoples.

He called for the "effective implementation" of the 2016 Paris climate change agreement, whose goal is to limit the increase in average global temperature to 1.5?C.

At a news conference presenting the message, Cardinal Michael Czerny, head of the Vatican's development office, said "enough is enough," and called for an immediate end to new exploration and production of coal, oil, and gas and the phasing out of the production of fossil fuels.

He also backed the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty initiative, a movement to end new development of such fuels.