Reflections on COP26: Part 1

Rev Dr Daniel Button

We have known Dan Button ever since he was on the staff at Redcliffe College in Gloucester, where we used to hold many conferences and for a brief time we had our office there. More recently Dan has become a tutor on the CRES course and he spoke on eschatology and the environment at a CRES day. When Dan told us that he was going to COP26 as part of the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP) we asked if he would write us a blog on his experiences, and he wrote two! Here is the first part. Part 2 follows

Meeting Al Gore

My COP26 began with a message from the CCOP group saying they’d arranged a private meeting with former Vice President Al Gore at a hotel in Glasgow, and could we submit our names and passport numbers for security vetting? I was due to preach that Sunday morning, but the church graciously suggested I do a recorded message so I could get to Glasgow by the 2pm meeting. As I was leaving Gloucester I received another message: due to Covid restrictions, the number was being limited to 14 – and I would unfortunately be one of those left out. Nevertheless, I arrived at the base camp just in time for the last group catching the train into Glasgow. On arriving at the hotel guarded by police and a few covert security, one person didn’t show, so I was allowed in after all.

CCOP group with Al Gore and Karenna Gore

The meeting was fascinating. Al Gore, (Oscar winner for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘informing the world of the dangers of climate change’) certainly knows his stuff. That’s why it was all the more prescient when he framed the entire climate change crisis as ‘a moral, ethical and spiritual issue.’ Remarkable to hear a politician refer to climate as a spiritual issue. He said at one point, ‘This is truly a moral choice. We are destroying God’s intricate, balanced, life-giving creation, and it’s immoral, it’s unacceptable.’ Alluding to the enormous challenges we face, he was nevertheless adamant, ‘I believe we are going to win this struggle’, but he cautioned us, ‘guard your hearts against despair. It’s easy to feel angry at those who aren’t doing what they should, and frustration at the slow pace of progress. Hang on to hope – without hope there is no action.’ The CCOP group I was with during the week in Glasgow could not have been more inspirational in putting our Christian hope into action.

Orchestrated Chaos

Last minute changes, unexpected opportunities and miscommunications were just the tip of the iceberg in several days of what can best be described as ‘orchestrated chaos’. On arriving at the main venue on Day 1, the streets were swarming with a massive police presence (good natured and helpful – but well prepared), and a 90-minute queue through the tight security into the Blue Zone. In addition to passports and searches, every participant required a negative Covid test every day – imagine! Walking the streets outside the venue, all sorts of activities were already in progress: a Scotsman in a kilt standing on a wall with a loudspeaker berating Britain’s imperialist overlords – with music from the Empire Strikes Back in the background (he was actually very articulate); a group of flag-waving Ugandans protesting the tyranny and corruption of their political system; a 450-strong march of Tamil freedom fighters demanding liberation in Sri Lanka; a large group camped under a bridge holding a ‘climate justice vigil’ for refugees; and on and on.

Faith groups Saturday march

COP26 involved 40,000 registered participants, including UN Secretariat units, National delegations, Specialised agencies, and Non-governmental Organisations (including faith-based groups like ours). It’s not just national leaders hammering out policy with a few big-name speakers like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. The main ‘Blue Zone’ comprised literally hundreds of meeting rooms, events, expositions and presentations all taking place concurrently – not to mention photographers, journalists, interviews, impromptu networking, and hastily arranged meetings in corridors or wherever space allowed. The ‘Green Zone’ across the river was a smaller version open to the public – but was fenced off for fear of being overrun by numbers and only open to ticket-holders – all immediately sold out! As it gradually began to look deserted, the ban was lifted after two days and the public allowed back in. Beyond both zones, Glasgow city itself was a hive of climate-based activities and events, with a substantial number organised by Christian groups using Glasgow’s churches and the Cathedral. Go to Part 2

Rev Dr Daniel Button is a theologian and director of Gateway Theology School in Gloucester. He has a particular interest in eschatology and a love for God’s creation. He has been involved in Christian higher education for nearly 25 years in several countries – mainly Zimbabwe, Uganda, and now the UK – though he originally comes from Minnesota (USA). Dan also has a long-standing interest in science and prefers to work in the cross-disciplinary intersection of scientific, biblical and theological thinking. This fits very well with the nature of the environmental challenges facing our world today and formed the basis of his recent doctoral research, exploring issues of continuity from creation to new creation. Dan lives in Gloucester with his wife Rosie, two mostly adult children, and a Tibetan Terrier named Frodo.

Photos: all photos courtesy of Dan Button