Climate protesters fear PR cloud will hide inaction

13 December 2019

Campaigners put pressure on Madrid delegates to deliver

Albin Hillert

A group of indigenous people demonstrate at COP25 in Madrid on Tuesday

A group of indigenous people demonstrate at COP25 in Madrid on Tuesday

AS TALKS at the UN climate summit in Madrid head to a close, significant issues remain unresolved despite interventions from the great and the good.

The Pope made a plea to countries to respond with urgency to the growing climate crisis, while the summit, known as COP25, received visits from a United States Presidential hopeful, Michael Bloomberg, the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, and the actor Harrison Ford.

In a letter to Chile’s Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt, who is presiding over the talks, Pope Francis said: “Young people today show a heightened sensitivity to the complex problems that arise from this emergency. . . There remains a window of opportunity, but we must not allow it to close.”

The young people to whom the Pope referred were those taking part in the climate school-strikes around the world (News, 6 December), some of whom were attending the talks. They were unimpressed, however, by the lack of progress, and, on Wednesday morning, a group stormed the main plenary hall stage and held a protest in front of sheepish-looking country negotiators in the room.

Ms Thunberg, who sparked the movement with her solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament last year, railed against the slow progress from leaders at the summit. She said: “I still believe the biggest danger is not inaction, the real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

Albin HillertAt a fringe event on Wednesday, campaigners from ACT Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Council of Churches seel to illustrate the lack of balance by countries that are financing the global climate response. Erik Bohm from Church of Sweden demonstrates how most money is put into mitigation, some into adaptation, and far less into repairing the loss and damage experienced by countries hardest hit by the effects of global warming

There are three key issues that are still to be agreed before the talks are supposed to close on Friday night, although experts suspect negotiations might overrun into the weekend.

The first is for countries to agree to submit strengthened plans to cut emissions by next year’s meeting in Glasgow. The last round of commitments were made in 2015, since when, renewable technology has advanced and got cheaper, so those pledges can now be improved upon.

The second issue is about how to provide financial support to communities that cannot simply adapt to climate change. “Loss and damage”, as it is known, seeks to compensate people who face losing their homes, livelihoods, and way of life. Resistance to this idea, however, has come from rich countries such as the US, the UK, and other EU nations, who have so far blocked the creation of a special facility to dispense these funds.

The third issue is to agree the rules around the trading of carbon credits, although many campaigners and climate-vulnerable countries fear that these could create poorly regulated markets which would weaken overall attempts to reduce emissions. Governments in Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Brazil, in particular, are refusing to agree on these safeguards.

If these issues are not resolved in Madrid, they will be kicked forward to Glasgow, putting even more work on the UK Government and diplomatic service to deliver a successful outcome that concludes these technical sections, ensures that countries commit to new emissions cuts, and also provides finance to poorer nations that are already dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Church groups have been closely monitoring the talks. The moderator of the World Council of Churches working group on climate change, the Revd Henrik Grape, a Lutheran minister, submitted an interfaith declaration that demanded that the summit help the poorest and most vulnerable.

The declaration was signed by the World Student Christian Federation, the Pacific Conference of Churches, and the Presbyterian Church USA, as well as the Episcopalian Bishop of California, the Rt Revd Bishop Marc Andrus, and the Diocesan Environment Officer for the diocese of Europe, the Revd Elizabeth Bussman, among others.

Albin HillertMembers of faith groups gather to offer “Prayer for the Rainforest” last Saturday, as part of the Cumbre Social por el Clima, on the fringes of COP25 in Madrid

It states: “We have no time to wait. As faith communities we seek to offer a positive and empowering voice of hope over fear, of compassion over indifference, and urgent and fair action as a moral obligation. We encourage personal and political responsibility, immediate and just climate action, sufficient climate finance, and a positive transformation of societal structures as well as a change in mindset.”

One observer following the summit is the Rt Revd Philip Huggins, a Bishop in the Anglican Church of Australia and member of the Christian NGO network the ACT Alliance. He said: “One negotiator told me, ‘The talks are like a huge poker game, people hold back, hoping to get a glimpse into what card the other might be holding before we reveal ours.’ That was not the spirit I felt while taking part in the huge climate march a few days ago in Madrid.

“The crescendo of the poker game is late this week. I will keep doing what I have been doing: walking around, quietly praying the Jesus Prayer of my many decades of spiritual practice, listening, and conversing, as the days go by. There are many faithful folk praying for us here. I am vividly aware of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The profound love of God for all creation energises our buoyancy and resolve as we journey on.”

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