Today the 21st climate summit of the UN has started in Paris. Unfortunately it’s overshadowed by the recent violent attacks that killed 130 innocent people. So security measures are very tight, and all actions of civil society organisations (CSOs) are cancelled. Yesterday big marches happened all over the world, but not in Paris – although a human chain was formed, and people left their shoes at the Place de la République. Very moving! No-one knows what will happen on December 12. Hundreds of thousands of people are/were expected in Paris, but officially the city is off limits. Hopefully people will join marches elsewhere in the world.
Our delegation at COP 21, under the category of ‘Faith Groups’, is larger than ever with more than 100 people. The delegation consists of men and women from ACT Alliance – i.e. the international umbrella of church aid and development organisations – the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). I am in the latter one. Apparently awareness about the climate problem is growing, also with people of faith: yesterday a petition with almost 1,8 million (!) signatories from faith communities all over the world was handed to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet, Nicolas Hulot. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, ACT Alliance global climate ambassador, said: “People of faith urge all parties to constructively engage and agree a Paris deal applicable to all. Climate justice is a spiritual and moral issue.”
The task of the ecumenical delegation itself is manyfold. First of all we observe what’s going on in order to inform our constituencies. So there is a lot of media activity. Secondly we offer a platform to those who have a weak voice or can’t speak out at UN conferences, such as indigenous peoples. Keep in mind the UN is a gathering of nation-states – indigenous peoples often do not feel represented by national governments, as they have their own way of organising themselves. But in many cases their land and way of living is being threatened by climate change. Thirdly many of us will engage in lobby work. Some do this as a daily job, others will focus specifically on what’s happening during the COP itself. Also we engage in interreligious co-operation, a.o. with a side event, and an ecumenical service.
What can we expect from this COP? There are hopeful signs that some kind of agreement will be reached. But the question is: will it be enough? Will governments worldwide finally accept the responsibility that comes with their position, and start acting? Personally I am not too optimistic that the outcome will be a kickstart for ‘deep decarbonisation’ around the world. Chances are that once again the joint effort will get stuck in words and be paralysed by the fight over who’s going to pay for what. Moreover: let’s hope that the international ‘war against terror’ will not draw funds away from what should be the ever increasing budget necessary to stop dangerous climate change. But let’s remain optimistic for now. The outlook is certainly better than in 2009 with the Kopenhagen summit.
30 November 2015