So many voices gathered together: world leaders, teenage activists, archbishops, scientists, journalists, Hollywood film stars, indigenous peoples, campaigners, business leaders, negotiators, the royal family, Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough – bringing hopes, agendas, ambitions, ulterior motives, alliances and pragmatism. All under Glasgow November skies for the most important global summit this century – and maybe ever?
I joined hundreds of pilgrims who had prayerfully and humbly walked from all over the world to march together in recognition that we are at a powerful and life changing moment that will touch not just all our lives now but for generations to come. It was thrilling and joyous as we marched into Glasgow at the beginning of COP26.
I was gladdened not just by the sheer number of Christians – from teenagers to pilgrims in their 80s representing all denominations from all over the world – but for the determination, vision and action to make a difference. To campaign to not only protect our precious world but to stand alongside our poorest neighbours who unjustly are most threatened by the effects of climate change.
We can feel cynical and powerless but through prayer, giving and action, Christians along with other faith groups can and have made a difference. One of the chief negotiators at the Paris COP21 said it was the combined voices of the global faith community that had made a difference to the global agreement on a 1.5 degree change in global warming the first time.
I had the privilege of meeting the UN Negotiator for indigenous peoples of the Global South, a veteran of COP meetings. His metaphors help to explain an incredibly complex process: “As a negotiator, it’s like playing 3D chess on 5 boards. The whole process of signing an agreement slowly, slowly creeps forward like a glacier.”
So now, as COP26 closes, the infrastructure is dismantled and weary negotiators and campaigners return home, what progress has been made, or how far has the glacier moved?
Sitting in church this weekend, I have reflected on the juxtaposition of remembering millions of lives lost in the great world wars and living now in 2021. For the last two weeks, 200 nations have come together in the most ambitious effort to work together that we humans have ever accomplished and that is something to be celebrated and to praise God for.
So what has been agreed after 200 countries have spent two weeks of hard negotiating?
- Countries will be required to set new emissions targets in 2022 with an accelerated push to keep temperature rises below 1.5C with a ‘phase-down’ of coal power, and phase out of inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies.
- For the first time coal and fossil fuels were debated and put on the agenda.
- The much-debated climate finance of $100 billion funding has been agreed, but vulnerable countries have yet to see pledges turned into actual donations.
- The gap between where we are now with what countries have pledged and what science tells us is required to stick to the 1.5C target is enormous, but the drive to keep only a 1.5 degree rise is still alive by a hair’s breath.
Whether COP26 can be considered a success, only time will tell.
“The ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ has delivered a strong message of hope,” said a climate envoy from Tuvalu. “But it isn’t enough and we have a long way to go.”
And, of course, different interest groups will call the summit a failure or a success, frustrating or hopeful, or in Greta Thunburg’s words: “More blah, blah, blah.”
We know words need to be turned into visible action to keep the 1.5C goal alive and we can all still do our bit. We can pray, act and give. Individually we can reduce our carbon footprint, collectively we can pray that the pledges made will be carried out in practice and we can support the Christian environmental charities working tirelessly to help create a better future for all of us and our future generations.
To find out more about our environmental charity partners:
Visit our Creation Care page
Scottish Christian Aid Prayer
May justice roll down, may wisdom be heard,
May righteousness be done on Scottish soil
In the name of the earth shaping, fire guiding, water parting, wind sweeping, Father, three in one.