Surprises, renewed challenges, and hope in COP28

Surprises, renewed challenges, and hope in COP28

Pedro Walpole SJ

Climate change, like political/cultural wars, is now added to the list of daily news along with national elections around the world, consumption, and the economic and financial crises that are forever threatening global stability. People as individuals can do little about these issues, yet suffer the daily media barrage and polarization, allowing for inaction by those in positions of responsibility.

In some form or context, these crises affect all human societies in a tiresome and stressful manner especially the youth, while disastrous for those affected through livelihood instability, food vulnerability, crossfire, floods, or migration. The response to these crises needs to be in the form of collaboration and hope sustained over time; an active expression where together we must – somehow – make a difference.

Ecojesuit joins the call of Laudate Deum for COP28 to be “a historic event that honors and ennobles us as human beings” (LD 59). The actions called for are similar to most civil societies and governments of the South but are moving far too slowly:

  1. Commit to developing the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty, slashing emissions through a just fossil fuel phaseout, and holding top polluters accountable
  2. Transform financial systems by establishing equitable financial flows of the Loss and Damage fund for climate vulnerable communities
  3. Implement climate action on agriculture and food security (COP27) upholding the role of agroecology and culture-based solutions in addressing food and water vulnerabilities
  4. Deliver USD 100 billion of public and private climate finance annually by developed countries in support of the Global South, and bridge gaps to meet the goal of USD 4.3 trillion by 2030 (OECD & Climate Policy Initiative, 2022), and
  5. Commit to course-correcting adaptation and mitigation deficiencies to keep the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement alive.

These are all laudable points for action, but the seven-year lead up to COP28 has seen much foot-dragging, re-rewording, false techno solutions and promises, leaving the world far from the COP21 commitments.

Strenuous action with “record ambition” does not seem remotely likely whatever UN Secretary-General António Guterres might say. Scientists too are laying out the strongest arguments for mitigation and to shift the path of action as the planet races toward a dead-end 3C temperature rise.

Three of many points highlight where we are going:

  1. Existing pledges mean global emissions in 2030 would be 2% below 2019 levels at best, rather than the 42% cut required to limit global heating to 1.5C. (UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2023)
  2. The UAE’s state oil company, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose CEO, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber will preside over COP28 , has the worst climate-busting oil plans in the world.
  3. Energy Charter Treaties operate through secret courts where companies can sue governments over policies that would cut their future profits.

Then quietly, as before COP21, Pope Francis seeks to speak to all humanity, to the urgency for action, and to the hypocrisy. It is worth reading Laudate Deum to understand how faith speaks to society on concern for humanity by pointing to certain and simple truths in a complex world.

We are called to seek anew clear basic actions with integrity in COP28. It is worth listening humbly to the Muslim Council of Elders, participating and sharing in the events of the Faith Pavilion to be opened by the Council and Pope Francis This faith forum, worked on for many years, is now coming to fruition and is expected to continue with each COP. As a moral platform, it calls for greater accountability and urgency within the process.

Civil society working alongside the COP process over the last 28 years to make the cry of the margins be heard, has not been effective, especially where engagement is not allowed with the host society organizations and with the national representatives. Many are talking of an “alternative COP” shadowing the formal process, but efforts have not been successful. The faith pavilion now provides a possibility.

This is something of the surprise, a seemingly hopeless COP opening to new processes of science and faith.

Part of the renewed challenge and the conversion we are called to in civil society is to find out how to listen and find the common focus in mission and be at peace, amidst the busyness of preparations and endless fact checking. There are times we need to meet as pilgrims, where we share the journey of the generations that inherit anew the responsibility for change and where we can work strenuously for significant collaboration. This is not about focusing on who will lead, but about listening and learning to weave the social options for change.

For Jesuit networks, this action involves many discussions and alignment of advocacies and commitments. The Migration Network responds to some of the same climate disasters and conflicts as Ecojesuit, Justice in Mining covers major areas of climate injustice, the Right to Education for all advocates a most basic response, and Xavier Network works for mission and development. All share much of the same life and story of the people.

It is now a challenge for these networks to prepare for COP31 in Australia (the critical ministerial COP) with strategic collaboration in mind, while working to share in the action from the local to national and national to regional.

Likewise, the questions arise for Jesuit universities and its 800,000 students worldwide. How are students understanding the relationships of wars, economies, societies, climate, and environment? How do these affect their lives? What is their point of contribution and what preparation do they want to take up as they engage in this world? How can this critical preparation be undertaken, not just within a particular university, but across institutions with a global vision?

The International Association of Jesuit Universities’ (IAJU) Global Citizenship Curriculum Project lays out a wonderful course module, and groups like the Environmental and Economic Justice Task Force can contribute. Much more needs to be done in education so this generation feels empowered to act for COP. Working more intently together also helps in forming a more integral reflection necessary in these intense struggles to understand what we must be in mission.

This challenge of institutional networking and encouraging students to engage in a global dialogue of crises prepares us in heart and mind to include a much broader sense of persons seeking change and resolving conflict.

As we step back in an atmosphere of listening and speaking with each other, we are called to review history and learn from its lessons. We have to listen to today’s youth and search with them for ways to hold the present tensions and not be consumed. We need to more easily recognize the connections and not simply choose one issue over another. We need to understand the fabric of life torn apart and how to hold and support each other by always recognizing the interconnectivity.

When religion became identified with terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, the processes undertaken took some years for voices in the UN to be heard in saying that the argument is going the wrong way and that the biggest community care impact is from ordinary faith-based actions.

The destruction of Gaza is not about simply pointing the blame and being drawn into sides, disregarding that the region is flammable and complex. There are 45 non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) throughout the Middle East and North Africa; already millions of people – basically forgotten – are suffering.

The local context reminds me that we can never simply put things back the way they were. In the Philippines, we have two such forgotten NIACs that leave a deep sadness amongst the people whose daily life is still a struggle. These are the Muslim communities who lost their only city in Marawi or the Indigenous Peoples who in their poverty and landscape are dragged into a war that is not theirs.

These contexts of fear and mistrust, along with manipulation and corruption, are highly destructive of basic human integrity, local communities, and sustainable and hopeful living for the present youth. We need to search for further reconciliatory processes; the world is too interconnected and vulnerable to risk sustained conflict.

Why is there hope? It comes from not simply the things we do but from what we are called to be for others.

Hope can come from how the rain falls softly or how the sun rises as our inner spirit calms and life is cherished before we can even name the feeling. Spirituality is the feeling of the inner spirit looking out, a personal sense of life as blessed, with all its trials.

Faith is where we feel drawn to do something in response to the greater sense of Spirit that, when acknowledged, comes to live with us. Faith is community, being called to act because of others. How does faith speak in our various societies today? In this way we cannot tell the effect we have.

Maybe COP can be occasion for listening in depth, where new experiences can emerge in a context of oil, war, consumerism, and land and water degradation. Part of the mystique of Pope Frances’ leadership is what he has become for others and how his presence invites others to feel they can act.

So, the surprise is, while I may be exhausted by all the necessary but greatly ineffective negotiations of COP over the years, while the sadness and fear of returning to more conflict locally and globally, I am challenged anew to recalibrate with others what might be possible in building a better world, brick by brick, community by community.

I do not have to have the answers or the commitments first, but rather the conviction to go forward with hope. As Pope Francis said of recent conflicts, we can only “take just one side in this conflict: that of peace” and this very simply applies to care for our common home. It is for us to act for the good of all in each detail of the mosaic of life.

This article was first published in Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES).

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