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COP28: In the midst of war, climate talks can help with peace-building, says Naoum

06 December 2023

Albin Hillert

Dr Hosam Naoum speaks at a fringe meeting at the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai at the end of last week

Dr Hosam Naoum speaks at a fringe meeting at the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai at the end of last week

THE Archbishop in Jerusalem and Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Hosam Naoum, has said that he hopes that tackling climate change at COP28 can make a positive contribution to reconciliation and peace-building, even as the war in Gaza continues.

Speaking from the COP28 summit in Dubai, he said that it was hard being away from home. “It is a bit of a sacrifice for me, as I’m leaving Jerusalem in a bit of turmoil,” he said. “I believe all people of faith and good will are watching with grief and devastation at the killing of innocents on every side. But it’s also important for me to be here to advocate for peace, for a ceasefire, for the end of war, and for both Palestinians and Israelis to be able to live a decent and secure life.

“I believe that, as much as we have to keep advocating for human rights, we have to keep advocating for the well-being of our climate, of our earth, of our environment, because that is home for us. I believe talking about climate change, even in the midst of conflict, will contribute to the conversation about reconciliation, about coming together about common ground.

“That is why I think being here at COP28 will add to the conversation that conflict and violence are not an end in themselves. We need to bring all the positive, hope-filled factors to the conversation, so that we can bring transformation to our troubled world and region.”

He said that the diocese of Jerusalem & the Middle East had passed a resolution to equip its buildings with solar panels by 2030, besides taking other steps to cut emissions.

“Seethe levels are rising”

This year’s COP28 summit has been the first to have a dedicated day focused on the impact of climate change and health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that, using only a few health indicators, climate change will be responsible for more than 250,000 excess deaths per year in the coming decades. The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, told delegates at COP28 in Dubai: “Although the climate crisis is a health crisis, it’s well overdue that 27 COPs have gone without a serious discussion of health. No more.”

At a side event on Tuesday, Dr Manoj Kurian, co-ordinator of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, referred to 1 Corinthians while highlighting the climate threat to health. “Climate change is having a massive impact on all humanity’s nutrition, health, and well-being,” he said. “But the most significant burden is borne by women and girls.

“Women and girls, who are half of humanity, are suffering disproportionately. In one body, if one part is in distress while another is at ease, it is incorrect to claim that, on average, the entire body is fine. Within the body of Christ, there are no averages. Let us collectively address inequities and alleviate suffering.”

While there are obvious health impacts from climate change through droughts and floods leading to malnutrition and the spread of water-borne diseases, often the danger to health comes through knock-on effects.

The chief executive of the Leprosy Mission, Peter Waddup, has warned how climate change is leading to the spread of leprosy. He said: “Just last month, my colleague returned from visiting one of our projects in northern Sri Lanka. He was visiting a community on the island of Vellanai, where the fishermen are now struggling to make a living. This is due to the monsoon winds weakening because of climate change. As a result, there is less plankton offshore, and, therefore, less fish.

“This has caused real hardship for the fishermen and their families. As a result, eight of the women from the community travelled to the capital, Colombo, to work in a garment factory.

“Now it appears these women contracted leprosy during their time in Colombo, and brought it back to the island. The government previously said that leprosy had been eliminated on Vellanai. Yet when my colleague visited last month, 13 women had been diagnosed with leprosy in the very small community. This example hit home to me just how vulnerable the people we serve are to climate change. There is a clear link between economic migration due to climate change and the spread of disease. My hope is that real progress is made at COP28 for the sake of those living in the very vulnerable communities in which we work.”

He said that, with climate disasters becoming more common in vulnerable places, medical staff capacity is often stretched thin. “Each year, my colleagues in Asia and Africa have to halt their planned leprosy work,” he said. “There is always an urgent need to respond with emergency aid to a climate-exacerbated disaster.”

It is hoped that this emphasis on the harmful impact on health will focus minds around agreement on a date to phase out fossil fuels. It seems, however, that the fossil-fuel industry has become aware of the threat that the summit could pose to their businesses. Analysis by the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition has found that nearly four times as many people connected to the fossil-fuel industry are attending COP28 this year, compared with COP27 last year, in Egypt (News, 11 November 2022).

The combined number of people representing energy companies totals 2456, which outnumbers every country delegation bar the host nation at 4409, and Brazil, at 3081, which is set to host the summit in 2025. Fossil-fuel lobbyists received more badges than the combined total of delegates from the ten most climate-vulnerable countries combined.

Christian Aid’s global advocacy lead, Mariana Paoli, said: “You wouldn’t let the tobacco lobby influence a health conference, or arms dealers through the doors at a peace conference; so why let the fossil-fuel lobby try to commandeer a climate conference? It must stop. People and the planet deserve better.”

One positive step taken at the summit was a commitment by 134 countries to incorporate reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture in their next round of Nationally Determined Contributions, the individual climate plans which make up the Paris Agreement, and are required to be upgraded every five years. Agriculture is responsible for one third of global emissions; so adopting more sustainable farming methods can make a significant difference to tackling climate change.

World Vision’s director for global hunger response, Mary Njeri, said: “This declaration is an excellent opportunity to integrate food security with climate action, as both are closely interlinked and interdependent. Our latest research on the impact of climate on conflict and hunger underscores that a healthy environment is indispensable for sustainable agricultural production.

“I truly hope that signatories will invest the resources required to implement the commitment, and have a way to track and report progress.”

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