As you may have heard, the UN’s Conference of the Parties, also known as COP26, will be held in Glasgow from 1-12 November where world leaders will gather to seek and strengthen international agreements around collective action to reduce global carbon emissions.
There is real hope that a new and more ambitious agreement will be reached during the conference; that a ‘Glasgow agreement’ may succeed the 2015 ‘Paris agreement’ and be more effective as more nations seem ready to recognise and to address their own carbon emissions.
The General Secretary and I were recently invited to join a consultation of about 35 faith leaders by Alok Shama MP, President of COP26. It was very encouraging to hear from speakers from a wide range of faiths and of Christian denominations, all taking the issue seriously. There was a clear recognition that climate change is a real threat and that action is urgent. Climate change will affect all generations and we need to develop a passion for action. I sensed a real desire of faith communities to work together and a genuine government wish to work with us. There were comments about the need for action not just words or promises, and a recognition that it is time to treat the issue seriously and urgently. Deep concern was also expressed for the injustice to those who suffer the consequences of climate change to be recognised, along with a need to redress the damage and loss experienced and to find ways to compensate victims.
The URC has already led the way on disinvestment from fossil fuel companies and around 250 (20%) of our churches have become Eco churches or ‘eco congregations’. It was also encouraging to hear that the Church of Scotland, Methodist Church and Church of England have committed themselves to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. I pray that the URC will be equally ambitious in this respect.
The government was challenged by speakers to build credibility, particularly by mirroring their stated aspirations especially where policy inconsistencies were evident (eg around permitting new coal mines and road building). We heard assurances from the government about their determination to achieve goals. We were also reminded of progress being made by the new US administration.
However, I reflect that the use of the word ‘cop’ can be unfortunate. We are painfully aware of how nations can ‘cop out’ of such agreements, when inconvenient, or find loopholes to exploit. Companies, especially within the carbon industry, can too easily can abuse their political influence to gain protection for their profits, or do ‘greenwashing’ to try to appear more positive. I wonder how many of them really would admit ‘it is a fair cop’.
We will all seek to reassure ourselves that any agreement is indeed a fair outcome which brings justice to victims and indeed moves positively towards urgently reducing carbon emissions. That it will indeed be a ‘fair cop’.
As Christians, we are also challenged to recognise our own carbon footprint and seek to minimise it as we seek to cherish God’s creation.
Let us hold all those participating in COP26 in our prayers.