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COP26: Issues yet to be resolved as end of summit draws near

10 November 2021

Charities and faith groups try to counter vested interests

Alamy

Demonstrators take part in an “Eyes of the world” protest, a campaign championed by CAFOD, at COP26, on Wednesday

Demonstrators take part in an “Eyes of the world” protest, a campaign championed by CAFOD, at COP26, on Wednesday

TALKS at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow will draw to an end this weekend as countries negotiate how to respond the growing climate emergency.

The meeting is expected to go beyond the nominal deadline of Friday evening. Earlier this week, outstanding issues included the lack of climate finance from rich nations to help poorer countries adapt and deal with the permanent losses and damage caused by climate change, as well as agreement on rules governing a global market in carbon credits.

COP26 has been criticised for not giving enough of a platform to those most affected by climate change: many civil-society observers had no access to meetings. An assessment of the list of official participants by Global Witness found that there were more delegates from the fossil-fuel industry than from any single country.

Murray Worthy, from Global Witness, said that they had found 503 participants with links to the coal, oil, and gas sector. “The fossil-fuel industry has spent decades denying and delaying real action on the climate crisis, which is why this is such a huge problem,” he said. “Their influence is one of the biggest reasons why 25 years of UN climate talks have not led to real cuts in global emissions.”

Church leaders have sought to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are being heard at the meeting, however. The ecumenical enabler at the Pacific Conference of Churches, Iemaima Vaai, said that faith leaders had an important part to play, and that a purely secular response to climate change was not enough.

She said: “The dominant climate narrative that we have today only focuses on the visible, and therefore creates climate solutions from a secular approach which fails to touch on the deep unseen wounds of our indigenous people. It completely ignores our spirituality, and it disrupts and damages the spiritual harmony of all creation, which our well-being and identity is framed around.

“We don’t need any more sympathy and talking; we are here to provide demands that help secure a cultural legacy and a future for our people.”

The distinctive contribution of religious leaders was underlined by Professor Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, a Lutheran pastor and climate-justice ambassador for the ACT Alliance, a network of international Christian NGOs working at COP26. She said: “As Churches, we have an ethical point of view, but we need to know where the negotiations are, so our ethical point of view can effectively inform the work of the negotiators.

“We need to give concrete, informed recommendations in the service of the needs of the most vulnerable if we are to have an impact here. In this way, we can bring climate justice more fully into the decisions of the conference.”

Senior Anglican clergy from areas of the world among those worst affected by climate change are at COP26. One of them is the Archbishop of Central America and Bishop of Panama, the Most Revd Julio Murray. The part played by faith communities, he said, must not be underestimated when considering the harm caused by climate change.

“As a representative of the delegation from the Anglican Communion, I believe that COP26 is an opportunity to introduce concrete action in response to one of our mission imperatives: to safeguard the integrity of all creation,” he said. “Governments, private-sector business, and multilateral organisations should recognise the strategic importance of faith actors.”

Central America contains some of the world’s richest eco-systems, as well as communities living on the front line of the climate crisis. “All the countries in the Central American region are experiencing flooding, and also food scarcity due to climate change. This also results in forced migration, which impacts on the region,” Archbishop Murray said.

The part played by church leaders, he said, was not just in raising awareness: it could also be a source of concrete solutions. “Anglicans across the world have long been engaged with environmental concerns. Anglicans are on the front line of the climate emergency, and are also actively involved in shaping solutions. We have the capacity to leverage our shared identity to mobilise our networks for climate justice and climate action.

“We encourage faith leaders in the local context to get in contact with their governments, to find out what are the agreements they have signed on to, and to make a strategic partnership with them in order to follow through and follow up on the commitments made at COP26.”

For the Archbishop, the solution also involves a spiritual reawakening. “Not only the Church in Central America, but also the Churches which are part of the Anglican Communion are working to tackle climate change,” he said. “We express the power of the Holy Spirit at this unprecedented time. This involves more than advocacy and activism: it involves a deeper level of pastoral guidance, innovative approaches to financial and environmental stewardship, and a spiritual and ecological vision, as we organise ourselves better to serve. We encourage governments so that they will be partners along with faith leaders in their different countries.

“I would ask UK Christians to partner in building resilience and in promoting justice. To encourage their own government to support governments in developing countries in Central America and the world to prepare programmes that respond to the damage and impact caused by the climate change. To join us as we pray and work together to be better stewards of creation, and to make sure that all people have what they need to live as human beings, with dignity and respect.”

Tuesday at COP26 was “gender day”, and Christian Aid published a report about the ways in which women were disproportionately feeling the effects of climate change around the world. Among the examples given in the report is from Kenya. Sadia Isacko, an activist who encourages women’s groups to attend public forums to discuss the issues affecting them, said: “Marsabit County [Kenya] was not always like this; yes, it was dry, but not this bad. For women, especially, the resources we need have moved further away. Basic resources like water, pasture for our livestock, and firewood have diminished further; yet women need these things for their everyday life.

“Every other responsibility is left for women. They don’t have access to milk, because the herds are away; they have to take care of children; they have to look for food, as their husbands are hundreds of kilometres away herding livestock.”

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, arrived at the talks on Tuesday, together with the largest congressional delegation to attend a COP summit, which included Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ms Pelosi said: “Eighty per cent of the people displaced in climate change globally are women. Addressing the rapidly changing climate is a matter of justice and equality, with the most vulnerable most affected, including indigenous communities, and our focus today, and every day, [is] on women.”

One of the other leading women at COP26 is Laurence Tubiana, the architect of the Paris Agreement and France’s former climate-change ambassador for the 2015 COP21 summit.

This week, she warned that the threat posed to action on climate change was no longer from climate-change deniers, but from misinformation about how much progress was being made. “Greenwashing is the new climate denial,” she said. Among the moves that have been criticised as greenwashing are announcements from Australia and Saudi Arabia that they will reach net zero emissions by 2050 and 2060 respectively; but there has been little detail on how they will achieve this. At the same time, both countries have been accused of undermining the COP26 negotiations and trying to water down language on ending fossil-fuel production.

On Saturday, Norwich diocesan synod voted by 61 votes to five to disinvest from fossil fuels. The Priest-in-Charge of Martham and Repps with Bastwick, Thurne and Clippesby, the Revd Dr Steven Sivyer, who proposed the motion, welcomed the outcome. “I am delighted,” he said. “There was a reasoned and thoughtful debate, and this is just the start of a wider move to look across our investments.

“Our Christian duty is to be good stewards of God’s creation. The purpose of this motion is so that we do not profit from the practices that are destroying our environment, so that our actions are informed by our morals, which are guided by our faith.”

Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist for Christian Aid.

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