The annual jamboree that is COP – the UN Climate Conference – is over. World leaders and representatives of the nations have returned home. Those from global corporations and business have gone back to their day jobs making the world go round. Scientists are back in the lab and campaigners from civil society and faith organisations have left, ready to plan their net big push. And perhaps Glasgow breathes a sign of relief that it is all over.
There have been twenty-six COP meetings since the 1990s. There have been terrible COPs, like the one on Copenhagen in 2009, when everyone expected action but nothing was agreed. There have been mundane COPs, where discussions made few headlines. There was a fantastic COP in Paris in 2015, the Paris Climate Accord affirming an aim of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade, and preferably 1.5 degrees Centigrade by 2100, which means reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. And this COP – COP26 – was significant in that nations were to come with revised plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions towards reaching net-zero by 2050.
So, was it a good COP? A bad COP? Or, fair COP?
Well, it might be said it was a good COP. India committed to a net zero target of 2070. Although 20 years later than the science says is needed, it’s a significant step. There were agreements too on reducing methane emissions and many nations – including Brazil – pledged to end deforestation by 2030. And for the first time in any COP agreement – and there have been 26 of them – there was mention of reducing the use of coal and fossil fuel subsidies.
On the other hand, it might be said to be a bad COP. Before Glasgow, the world was looking at around 3 degrees warming by 2100. After COP26, with plans put in place by nations, scientists now estimate we are heading for 2.5 C. Still more than science tells us is needed to avert dangerous climate change which will affect all peoples and the whole community of creation, especially those who are already the poorest and most vulnerable. Yet, nations have been challenged to come back to next year’s COP in Egypt with more ambitious targets to transition to green energy, keeping the hope of “1.5 degrees alive”.
And what about a fair COP? Back at the bad COP in Copenhagen back in 2009, the rich nations of the world promised to provide $100 Billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations adapt and develop using greener technology. This promise has now been pushed back to 2024, a delay that is to be lamented. And while Loss and Damage finance to support nations already feeling the impact of climate change – a key call from many mission and campaign groups – is mentioned in the final agreement, there is little detail and even less cash. So, a fair COP – perhaps not.
Many people and groups have been commenting about COP26 over the past weeks. Some stress a good COP theme. Others say it’s a bad COP, and still others focus upon the unfairness of it all. One group of voices that have stood out for me are those of the young campaigners who have put so much energy in raising up climate change on the global agenda. Over the past year I have met some of them, walked and talked with them. Post COP, many of these voices I am hearing sound frustrated and disappointed. I was struck by comments made in a video post shared in the BUEN Facebook feed of four young adults from the Methodist Climate Justice for All team who were at COP26. One, from the Pacific Islands, already heavily affected by sea-level rise and more intense storms said they felt coming to COP26 had been a waste of time. And speaking with an Environmental Group in my local secondary school this week, one young person asked, “Do you think there is still time to save the planet?”
But whether it’s been a good, bad or fair COP, I don’t think this is the time to COP out.
I recently read a story in Northumbria Community Morning Prayer (Aidan Series, Nov 15) attributed to Elie Wiesel. It’s based upon the Old Testament story of the judgement of the city of Sodom;
“A just man of God went to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. In the beginning people listened … then they stopped listening; he no longer amused them.
One day a child, moved by compassion for the unfortunate teacher, approached him with these words; “Poor stranger, you shout, you scream, don’t you see that it is helpless?”
“Yes, I see”, answered the man.
“Then why do you go on”?
“I’ll tell you why. In the beginning I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me”
Now, hear me right. I don’t think it’s helpless. There is still time to save the planet! Yet, I am reminded that the struggle is not one of facts and figures, of possible global warmings and dates to stop polluting the atmosphere. It is a spiritual struggle, against the “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil on the heavenly realms” (Eph 4v12). The fact that mention of coal and fossil fuels has been excluded from previous twenty-five COP agreements is one sign of this, of the powerful global influence of the fossil fuel industry. Yet, we are all entwined and influenced by these powers and our minds and hearts are tainted and in need to redemption and renewal.
So, we need to keep praying – for the rulers and peoples of the nations, and also for ourselves. As Paul says, “pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints” (Eph 4v18). That despite disappointment, our hope will remain strong. That we will not COP out, but continue as individuals, churches and a whole Baptist Together family to seek to increasing walk lightly with God among the garden of creation as New Creation disciples. Inviting others too to share the journey with us towards freedom. Freedom for people, communities and the whole community of creation who in Christ God is “pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1v20).
 Northumbria Daily Prayer, Aidan Series, November 15