This is the second part of Andy Clark’s reflections on COP26. The first part is here. The Glasgow Pact contained many things and if you want a thorough analysis as the basis for a response Andy would recommend Carbon Brief’s analysis of Key Outcomes.
Without going into the detailed implications it seems to me that the Glasgow Pact opens a series of doors to the future, some new, others old but opened a little more widely than they were before. A crucial question is what will entice people to go through those doors from the familiar status quo to the unknown. How will people react, what attitudes will we see in play?
Technical experts and well-informed economic commentators may be tempted to spend a lot of time and energy discussing the size or style of the door, for example with warnings that this door is too small, you will definitely bump your head if you try it. Or that door has a dangerously poor structure with loopholes all over it.
Many activists seem to come to the debate with the assumption that the politicians are wed to their short term self-interest and have their hands tied by powerful lobby groups from industry. So the only thing which will work is ever increasing pressure and aggression to force these reluctant, evil people through a door.
Some are even recommending that we demolish all the doors and find a new way of scrambling over the mounds of rubble to a new future. They have given up on the current political systems completely, and all too easily label the efforts of those in the system as blah, blah blah.
Where does faith-based and specifically Christian activism fit into this picture? Faith-based organisations were well represented in the observer body at COP26, and before COP26 world religious leaders sent an Appeal to COP26. I see this as a very constructive document, flagging up the part that faith communities needed to play as well as respectfully appealing to politicians and other leaders to play their part. However during the heat of the negotiations a group of faith communities issued an urgent call to action at COP26, which focused almost exclusively on where the agreement texts and leaders were failing – including “Simply referencing Loss and Damage (L&D) in the draft decision text without identifying any concrete action is offensive and immoral.”
Not only did this fail to acknowledge many good results from the negotiations so far, but it also labelled them as “immoral”. This is a strikingly different attitude to the appeal before COP26, and for me this is a poor psychological approach. Moreover, using the label “immoral” immediately implies that I am claiming the moral high ground – which is patently untenable when we look at the church through history and even today. It also reinforces all those negative value judgments about evil, self-serving politicians!
So what should we be looking for in Christian activism? Should it be different and if so how? Before being tempted to “speak truth to power”, taking a stand like an OT prophet, we need to be scrupulously on the lookout for self-righteousness and hypocrisy. For example, we in the UK may all too easily criticise India and China for watering down the wording on coal and fossil fuels to “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. But at the same time we still have large levels of subsidies on oil and gas ourselves. And many Christian organisations, UK pensions schemes and people still have investments in fossil fuel companies.
Simply adding more negative critiques, more words, more blah, blah blah to all the other activists is unlikely to help much. Instead Christian (and other faith) leaders have the potential to catalyse a very large percentage of the world’s population into actions, which many believe speak louder than words. According to the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee, 60% of the actions needed to achieve Net Zero emissions depend on individual choices about lifestyle (e.g. travel habits, home heating, food waste, diet, consumerism). So we need more than rules and regulations laid down by governments – we need to place people at the heart of climate action and change our attitudes. In the words of Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew’s Open Letter to COP26 at the G20 Interfaith Forum: Unprecedented determination and human energy are required to free us all from enslavement to wasteful living. By devoting the power of our faith and the ingenuity of our minds to the contemplation of solutions, we can escape this bondage”.
So the response to the Glasgow Pact begins with me. And then after I have walked through some of my personal doors, what doors do I need to help my church, local businesses, my local council and even the UK govt to walk through? What’s my best strategy for that? I suggest that we need to be generous with our actions and sparing with our words – illustrated so well by this cartoon painted on the wall in the Blue Zone of COP26 in Glasgow:
Andy Clark works for SIL and recently enrolled on the CRES Course. His detailed biography can be found at the end of the first part of his COP26 reflections.
Cartoon image taken on the cartoon wall in the UN Blue Zone by Andy Clark