Pope Francis has cancelled his upcoming trip to Dubai for the Cop28 climate talks, on the advice of doctors concerned about his recent flu-like symptoms, the Vatican said.
The 86-year-old, who has made protecting the environment a cornerstone of his 10-year papacy, had planned to become the first pontiff to attend the UN event since the process began in 1995.
With Francis’s withdrawal from the conference, which begins on Thursday, Cop28 will lose a high-profile advocate of the environment, a moral authority recognisable on the global stage whose words some believed could nudge leaders to take concrete action.
On Saturday, he cancelled events due to what the Vatican called “light flu symptoms”. It said that a CT scan had ruled out “risks of pulmonary complications”. The pope was forced to recite the traditional Angelus prayer on Sunday from his residence rather than overlooking St Peter’s Square.
On Tuesday, Vatican spokesperson, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement: “Although the Holy Father’s general clinical picture has improved with regard to his flu-like condition and inflammation of the respiratory tract, doctors have asked the Pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai.
“Pope Francis accepted the doctors’ request with great regret and the trip is therefore cancelled.”
Bruni – who just hours earlier had told a briefing that the pope would be attending – added he still wished to be part of discussions in Dubai, without specifying how.
Francis, who turns 87 next month, has suffered a series of health issues in recent years, from knee and hip pain to an inflamed colon and most recently, hernia surgery in June.
But Bruni said the pope would lead his weekly audience on Wednesday morning as planned.
The leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, more than half of whom live in the developing world, Francis has long insisted on the link between the climate crisis and poverty, with the world’s most marginalised paying the highest price for global heating.
In Dubai, the pope was expected to use the platform to castigate countries for a lack of action on the climate crisis, and seek to persuade them to dramatically cut their greenhouse gas emissions.