A Journey in Three Worlds

Andy Clark

Andy Clark works for SIL and recently enrolled on the CRES Course. When we heard that he was attending COP26 with the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP) we asked if he could write us a report. Conveniently, Andy attended COP26 for the second week, while Dan Button’s recent blogs concerned the first week with CCOP. Andy also decided to split his contribution into two parts and his second part is “A Response to the Glasgow Pact”.

I was an observer for the second week of COP26 and my experience began with attending the Climate March on Saturday 6th November, which attracted about 100,000 people. The march pulsated with energy and people chanting, with so many costumes and themes. Some of the slogans were witty e.g.  “Less Meat=Less Heat” and some more values-based. The winner for me, carried by Tearfund, was an old favourite from (Micah 6:8) “Act justly. Love mercy. Walk Humbly.” But for these indigenous people, the “Guardians of the Rainforest”, it’s not about slogans, it is about a life or death struggle to preserve their land and way of life.

That evening I travelled to a very different world at the Climate Vigil service in St George’s Church. This was a Christian world, designed for reflection. There was a very powerful new adaptation of “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia, alleluia!”, now lamenting for the damage that we have done to creation. After mourning we each lit a candle, light in the darkness, as a symbol of hope coming from God which we want to offer to the world.

On Monday I travelled to a third world, the COP26 Blue Zone, venue for all the official UNFCCC meetings. The theme for the day was Adaptation, Loss & Damage, and I observed a high profile event on adaptation where ministers from various countries presented all the good things they are doing in a massive auditorium less than a third full. Not much new or exciting, just many statements about how more funding is still needed…

In the afternoon I queued for over 30 minutes to get into a session on Loss and Damage, but the room reached COVID socially-distanced capacity with just 6 people ahead of me and still over 100 people behind me in the queue. It was a healthy object lesson for me to have the feeling of being excluded, just as many poorer and more vulnerable countries are routinely.  I couldn’t help wondering why this event was in a room for 150 people compared to the massive but sparsely populated auditorium for the high profile event of the morning.  It seemed to fit with a pattern of reluctance by rich nations to reach any agreement on loss and damage with poorer nations since the Paris Agreement 5 years ago.

Then I witnessed a clash between two of the worlds. I was in a discussion in the Green Zone (open to the public) on “Younger Generations and the Switch to Sustainable Energy” including two young activists and a representative of National Grid who are currently investing hugely in a network of fast chargers for electric vehicles. I felt for Divina, one of the young activists who said: “This is really exhausting, I am very stressed. I feel a lot of personal responsibility for my carbon footprint, but really we should be sorting out the big players, like BP who invented the idea of carbon footprint to divert attention away from themselves to make individuals feel responsible.”

At this point the discussion was disrupted by demonstrators who blocked the panel with their poster and read a statement accusing the National Grid of greenwashing, because they are building a new gas pipeline in New York, and here in the UK belching methane into the atmosphere from 6 leaking compressor stations. I then felt for the manager from the National Grid working like many others to do good from within big organisations which are also doing some significant harm.

On Friday, back in the Blue Zone “World” negotiations for a cover agreement (eventually called the Glasgow Pact) were heating up. I heard a press statement from two small island states, The Marshall Islands and Grenada, whose representative was asked: “Are we keeping 1.5 alive?” His reply “Yes, with the current agreement text, we are if it can withstand the battering it will receive.” Although asked, he diplomatically declined to specify exactly which countries would be doing the “battering”, but it was clear that everyone knew anyway!

Then there was an “Informal Stocktaking Plenary” led by Alok Sharma, where delegates from 38 countries gave their comments on the latest version of the cover agreement text and flagged up improvements they hoped to see. The speech which drew the most applause by a long way came from the EU representative, stressing the need for a strong, clear agreement so that “in 2050 our grandchildren will not be fighting each other for food and water”, but enjoying together a stable world and sustainable economy.

As has been much discussed in the media, the agreement text did not survive the battering. While it did contain the first explicit statement on coal and fossil fuel subsidies, this was watered down due to the last minute interventions of India and China.

It was an interesting, but also jarring experience to travel between the three worlds at COP26: the Official UN meetings; the People’s Climate Summit and protests on the street; and the Christian community. These three worlds intersect to some extent but I can’t help thinking that the more these three worlds overlapped, the more effective they all would be!

Glasgow was somehow parallel to the picture we have in Revelation of a huge crowd from every nation, tribe and language, but a very distorted copy: not all nations and people groups who should have been were well represented, and the centre of attention was not God, but looking out mostly for humanity, with some attention to biodiversity as well. (So maybe, regrettably, the parallel to Babel is stronger!) If only God were more at the centre of this impressive gathering of the peoples of the earth!

See my next Blog for some reflections on a Christian Response to the Glasgow Pact.

Andy Clark. In 2004 I returned to the UK from Kenya where Debbie & I (plus 2 kids) were working for 10 years with SIL International. I then joined our Eurasia Area Leadership and in 2016 I took on a global role on the SIL Executive Leadership Team. I have to confess that this involved flying around the world for about 20 weeks per year, pretty much heedless of my carbon footprint! SIL is linked to Wycliffe Bible Translators and is involved in over 1,300 language projects in 104 countries. Language-related barriers can hinder education and marginalise indigenous communities, preventing full access to the economic, social and political life of their country. This video gives an introduction to the sort of challenges they face – many things which we, as English speakers, simply take for granted. In addition many are already experiencing major impacts from climate change and environmental degradation. Towards the end of my 5 years on the leadership team, I became very concerned about how little attention we were giving to creation care, and I helped set up a creation care task force. Being relatively new to the creation care arena, I decided to become more informed by starting the CRES course this September. I was delighted to get the opportunity to join the Christian Climate Observers Program and attend COP26. This was the best example of being thrown in the deep end which I have had in my whole career!

Photos were all taken by Andy Clark