Well it’s that time of year again – No, it’s not Christmas, or Hallowe’en or even Ground Hog Day. It’s the annual United Nations Conference of Parties climate meeting from Sunday, November 6 to Friday, November 18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The location is noteworthy as COP 27 is being called the African COP as it takes place on African soil, a meeting which will hopefully highlight the voices of African leaders, and articulate and respond directly to the impact of climate change in Africa. In so many ways, as goes Africa thus goes the world.
This COP meeting is the latest in a series of international UN meetings which have occurred, almost annually, since 1992. (I attended two in 2002 and 2005.) Initially under the umbrella of the World Council of Churches, and later on our own initiative, Anglican representatives have produced discussion papers; we have hosted seminars and webinars; we have signed petitions, some which found their way onto the conference floor. We have marched through local streets, sometimes with thousands of other activists; we have joined with civil society delegations, especially with youth and Indigenous voices, demanding justice for the oppressed and celebrating Creation itself. Most of the time it feels like we were shouting alone from the sidelines (there is precedent in the complaints of countless prophets), but occasionally, our priorities are mirrored in negotiated outcomes.
Following the limited success of COP 26 in Glasgow there was hope that the meetings themselves, and the world, were moving in a positive and just direction. Such hope is now muted, and if Fiona Harvey’s analysis is correct, which I suspect it is, expectations for this COP are low if not despairing. Reduced ambitions admitted, Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church representatives will attend with an advocacy plan.
A recent Policy Update from the Anglican Consultative Council is both hopeful, informative and realistic. The full documents is worth a careful read (and please share). The key messages will be familiar to many, though there are a few tweaks worth noting:
1. The climate emergency is a global threat that requires a global response, imagination and the long view. It can’t be solved if countries are caged by nationalistic self-interest or short-term political cycles. Profound changes in attitudes and ways of seeing are needed. This is something the Anglican Communion and other faith actors offer.
2. Recognise the strategic importance of faith actors and include them as key partners in building resilience, coordinating disaster response, and other adaptation and mitigation activities. Churches and other faith actors are integral parts of local communities, have deep wells of experience and a web of relationships to perform these functions.
3. Resilience is about more than providing infrastructure. People and relationships are at the heart of community resilience, alongside practical responses. The Anglican Communion is actively building the resilience of its members across the world.
4. Resilience planning must include comprehensive, multi-sector interventions and responses supported by adaptive and flexible funding and designed with the active participation of local and vulnerable communities, particularly Indigenous peoples, women, and youth.
5. Governments, especially those in the Global North, must fulfill their financial commitments to climate finance, scale up development assistance to support mitigation and adaptation initiatives, double adaptation funds, encourage financial institutions to provide grants, rather than loans, and consider broad-based debt relief for financially overburdened countries.
The focus on Loss and Damage is significant. Another word for L/D, while unpopular, is reparations. What financial support should the wealthier and more industrialized nations provide to those poor nations, typically in the Global South, in response to current and historic abuse and exploitation of the planetary resources and the environment. How might such monies be used in a genuinely restorative way? As Fiona Harvey notes, if there was hope and some momentum following the Glasgow negotiations, much has been lost in the present geopolitical era – the US and China are at loggerheads; Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted global finance and trade; and most importantly, the ever present and influential fossil fuel lobby is wealthier and more forceful than ever. Even US President Joe Biden railed at fossil fuel corporations who have enjoyed record profits now channeled to shareholders rather than to nations in need. Fiona Harvey:
While the oil and gas execs have been splurging their bonuses, more than 20 million people in Pakistan have needed humanitarian aid, after heavier floods than any in recorded history devastated the country in August. In Africa, the worst drought in 40 years has left 146 million people facing extreme hunger. China has suffered the worst heatwave in history, Europe has seen record temperatures – more than 40C in the UK – and the US megadrought was judged the worst in 1,200 years.
I encourage readers to study carefully the stories of resilience described in the final pages of the update. These are inspiring snapshots of how communities are adapting to new and enduring realities. They are also mitigating the effects of GHG emissions. Oh that this energy and initiative would infiltrate other conversations, especially as nations will be asked to (re)affirm their tangible and measurable commitments to GHG emission reductions (National Determined Contributions NDCs), Anglican delegations however will focus on Loss and Damage, not only as a restorative political strategy, but as a strategic and theological response rooted in truth-telling, compassion and love. From the update:
The Anglican Communion shares the perspectives of the developing countries on financing of loss and damage. We call on the parties meeting at the 27th Conference of Parties in Sharm El Sheikh, to establish a loss and damage fund facility to support climate disaster responses in developing countries.
Faith compels us to love our neighbour. It teaches that all are made in the image of God; that the earth and its people belong to God and are loved by God; that we are all deeply and inextricably interconnected: “if one part of the body hurts, all parts hurt with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Some will find it difficult to connect love expressed within interpersonal relationships with global politics. If the Good Samaritan crossed the road in a compassionate embrace of a person in crisis, surely that is one thing, but these are high stakes negotiations affecting the lives of millions, directed by a minuscule proportion of earth’s population in a crucible where power is everything – except it’s not.
What Anglicans dare to suggest on the cusp of COP 27 is that the essential component of any negotiation, if not love is at the very least, respect. If the technical term justice seems difficult for some, perhaps a return to some kind of fairness is possible. Instead of constant competition between rival nations, stakeholder groups or celebrity politicians, a new kind of global community could come into being if the will is there.
So let’s bring this conversation home, to our parishes, where at many points in our liturgy we say, “let us pray.” Let us indeed pray: for the process of COP 27; for the negotiations and the negotiators; let us pray for all faith community groups, including Anglicans; let us pray for those who are oppressed and for a change of heart in their oppressors. Let us pray that despite difficulties and perversions, we can trust the process.
Finally let us trust God-in-Christ to help us along the way, with thanksgiving for this marvellous earth, given to us in trust.