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Faith leaders add their weight to the push for a final deal at COP26

12 November 2021

Albin Hillert

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, addressing COP26 delegates before the final push to secure an agreement

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, addressing COP26 delegates before the final push to secure an agreement

FAITH leaders have made a last-ditch attempt to improve the outcome of the COP26 climate talks, signing a strongly worded open letter to delegates as the summit enters its final hours in Glasgow.

The more than 30 signatories are concerned that the current version of the document, which will summarise the result of the negotiations, ignores a number of key requests made by developing countries.

They say there is reasonably strong language on emission reductions, known as “mitigation”, which is a priority of many richer countries; but the draft agreement is light on the provision of funds to poorer nations to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change and compensate them for the permanent “loss and damage” that it causes.

Signatories include the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, the C of E’s lead bishop for the Environment; the Most Revd Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church; the Revd James Shri Bhagwan, general secretary of Pacific Conference of Churches; and Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance.

They write: “The current texts remain worryingly unbalanced. While there is progress on mitigation, it is shocking that there is limited reference to action needed to address increasing climate impacts.

“Simply referencing loss and damage in the draft decision text without identifying any concrete action is offensive and immoral. The current text not only fails to deliver a separate mechanism to deliver action on loss and damage, it also does not provide any realistic path to new finance.

“The texts on finance fail to provide confidence that the overdue pledge of $100 billion a year in support for poorer countries will be delivered. The commitment on adaptation, as part of that finance pledge, falls significantly short. The current text does not address the fact that most public finance comes in loans, which are adding to the burden of debt for climate-vulnerable countries, nor the challenges on access.”

Campaigners from Tearfund also tried to ramp up pressure on richer countries by holding a stunt in the halls of the conference centre. Civil-society delegates from countries at the frontline of the climate emergency took on the guise of bailiffs to issue an invoice to the richest and most polluting countries in the world.

Promise Salawu, of Tearfund Nigeria, said: “We’re issuing world leaders with this final demand for payment. Every day that rich countries refuse to pay their bill, communities around the world are paying a very real price in homes destroyed and lives lost. This pledge was made 12 years ago now. It is time governments of richer countries stop stalling, and settle the balance as a matter of urgency.”

Similar sentiments were reflected by young Christians attending COP26 with the Christian Climate Observers programme. Alice Corrie, who attends an Anglican church in Exeter, and works for the charity Climate Stewards, said: “Being part of COP26 has brought me closer to the fact that climate change, and therefore climate injustice, is intrinsically linked with a myriad of other social injustices including poverty, racial inequality, and gender inequality at the forefront.

“I have been experiencing a spectrum of emotions from hopelessness to real hope at the situation. Sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, I have been continually reminded by God, sometimes through other Christians here, that we carry hope.”

Ms Corrie referred to a talk by one of the world’s leading climate scientists, who is also an Evangelical Christian from Texas and who works to spread knowledge about climate change among sceptical audiences in the United States. She said: “Dr Katharine Hayhoe talked on Wednesday about good communication on the subject coming from the heart and makes the connection between the climate crisis and the real impacts on people all over the world and particularly in your local area.

“As Christians, we are taught to take care of the marginalised in our world, and that is exactly who is being affected by climate change the most. Personal connection to the issue motivates us to make personal changes and make our voices heard.”

Another member of the Observers scheme, Kari Miller, from Maritoba in Canada, said that she was inspired by the work of Christian organisations at the summit. “Though the climate crisis feels unredeemable at times, the Church reminded me that God is still good and is still creating. God is present in the natural world and is present in the work of these folks.

“There was a sense of resiliency in how they know this summit is not the end of the story. There is much more good work to be done. I have come to realise that, though there are voices of despair, the people of the Church bring faith, resilience, and hope in action to the conversations being held.” She cited in particular Rachel Mander’s work in organising the walk from Cornwall to Glasgow.

The talks in Glasgow were supposed to finish on Friday evening at 6 p.m. but are expected to stretch over the weekend. COP25, held in Madrid, ended up finishing on Sunday afternoon.

Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist for Christian Aid.

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