Climate change is the continuing crisis the world is experiencing since its discovery in the early 19th century, but any global discussion at this time has to start with COVID-19. These are the two existential crises humanity faces today and the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November cannot be put to the side as countries come to grips to manage the pandemic.
2020 is one of the hottest three years on record and ocean heat content is at rising record levels as well, as there is no let-up, no reduction in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In 2020 alone, fires were experienced in Australia, the Arctic, Spain, and California. Continued extreme weather events throughout Asia were reported in the World Disasters Report 2020. There was severe drought in South America, water scarcity in India, increased vulnerability of Small Island States to sea level rise, and major locust invasions in Africa, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization describing the situation as a desert locust crisis.
All of these regional crises, often viewed as temporary, demand urgent, comprehensive, and lasting local-to-global action. These crises continue to circle, undermining human resilience and the national capacity to act.
And while the virus rages throughout the world, crushing already vulnerable and impoverished migrants, rural and urban populations in the South and the North, inadequate action persists given the chronic social reality. Beyond vaccine availability and access, many still do not have water to wash their hands, food to nourish a family, shelter or the transport to practice social distancing.
But this is also the time to talk more about the climate than the virus and take action. The world cannot continue to sleepwalk through the broader needs of the world, as the world we will wake up to is not going to be a better place and healed of its ills unless action is comprehensive. Responding to one problem at a time is not going to change the present situation of bad to worse. Consolidated and complementing approaches are needed.
The global economy does need to grow, but all the more it needs to be shared. The economy needs to be understood as a household where everyone participates, and the majority are not left with crumbs on the floor.
Sharing in this economy needs to include all so that this economy is sustained, and this includes the excluded ecology, the sister in the oikos who is written off, locked out, and needing full recognition and restitution. Ecological services need to be accounted for and the payback for decades of destruction and waste needs radical rectification.
Without this justice, there is no balance achieved before many lands become unproductive and the bounties of the seas are lost.
How global does this socio-ecological crisis have to be to bring us to our knees in the Wall Streets of this world, in our Churches and meeting halls, State Institutions and global sleepwalking negotiations? Climate negotiations have been sitting in the corner for five years as a white elephant.
The right to a stable climate is the right of all
Negotiations around the Paris Agreement – the global blueprint for collective climate action signed in 2015 – have lagged as government heads are not willing to commit to a collective impact, exasperating limited actions. The global agenda that COP 26 offers still requires major mobilization and solidarity, faith-based collaboration, engaged communities and citizens learning how to commit from local contexts, among many actions.
The UK and Italy are hosting COP26 and it is vital that leaders seek global solidarity as critical tipping points in the environment – the global household – are faced.
As economies and societies struggle to recover from the pandemic, these must be done in ways that stabilize the environment – the most vulnerable and the source of the world’s natural balances that determine seasons and wellbeing.
It is not simply about doing more. It is about making fundamental shifts in attitudes and values that lead to action.
It is about conversion and a covenant of care with humanity and all of creation to care, and to care deeply even when it hurts. Wealth accumulation and the Earth’s degradation need to shift gear with commitment and results shared on the table.
Key points for critical negotiation in COP26
UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, in a recent lecture at the London School of Economics titled Our Slim Window of Opportunity: What the climate change agenda must achieve in 2021, shared the four elements that will constitute the successful outcome of COP26:
1. Promises made to developing countries are kept, especially the pledge by developed nations to mobilize $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020
2. Governments wrap up outstanding items and negotiations to fully implement the Paris Agreement
3. Countries lower emissions and raise climate ambition, not only with regard to emission reductions, but also increasing ambition in adapting and building resilience to the impacts of climate change
4. No voice or solution is left behind, through re-engaging with observers and Non-Party Stakeholders in a unity of purpose
Climate policies and solutions are also being discussed for COP26 and the call for greater action is focused on five key points for critical negotiation:
2. Agree to ratchet up Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or the climate ambition of every country to achieve net-zero targets
3. Mobilize US$100 billion yearly as climate finance for developing countries and shift to policies for more sustainable economies like the European Green Deal
4. Highlight corporate accountability and enabling the means for ‘Loss and Damage’ through the Warsaw International Mechanism
5. Integrate nature-based solutions (NBS) in the Paris Agreement Rulebook, highlighting the role of Indigenous Peoples, forests, oceans, ecosystems, biodiversity, and biomes. NBS has the potential to deliver up to 37% of the cost-effective mitigation required by 2030.
Ecojesuit suggestions in engaging with the COP26 process
Ecojesuit is a network that does not operate as a social movement. Thus, Ecojesuit is very dependent on people who want to network and why they want to network and share what they are advocating.
On the one hand, our effort is to share local stories and experiences coming through the Conferences, institutional programs of action, educational events (compiled in Ecostream), and specific events organized by Ecojesuit teams at Conference- and Province-levels.
On the other hand, global networking receives most attention from the Conferences when Ecojesuit engages in climate change (COP meetings) and climate action/strikes. At the global level, we seek to sustain linkages with other Jesuit networks and collaborate more broadly with civil society and UN bodies.
As experienced in previous COP processes that Ecojesuit took part in, the following are suggested:
1. Genuinely commit to change and a covenant relationship
This call is not just about an event in November, but about a deeper socio-ecological, political, and corporate commitment to change that must happen now.
However, commitment to change is not enough to make a difference as commitment is easily whittled away by short-lived actions and the feeling of insignificance amidst a global crisis. The commitment needs to be deepened and transformed into a covenant relationship where there is no giving up, no backing out. Entering into a covenant binds the commitment to a deeper level and a promise to stay in there whatever happens.
Guided by Laudato Si’, Fratelli Tutti, and the Universal Apostolic Preferences, what is the commitment that people or organizations are willing to make even if others do not respond to the call for change this year?
2. Accompany the voices in the margins
See-Judge-Act is the way of proceeding but has a tendency to remain an intellectual discourse and resolution seems dependent upon the same intellectual discourse for action.
If conversion is to be experienced, we need to be challenged today in our work, our daily living, in what we eat, and in what we say, so that we can integrate our faith, our community accompaniment, and our knowledge of systems (scientific, technological, psychological).
If there is no local community that we can learn with and from, then we need to find one. This is a call for accompaniment of living, struggling communities in the margins affected by the pandemic and the economy.
How can their voices be supported so that they are heard?
3. Practice servant leadership
Leadership and collaboration are key words apart from care and covenant, solidarity and voice. We are all capable of raising the concerns with our neighbors and community. By bringing us all forward, by sharing consolation and desolation through little and great acts, we can make a difference because we are working together, we are working for others.
With all our education, we should understand that our powers of inquiry can animate and change many others and that the challenge is to live with the questions. The challenge is to take up humbly the role of shepherding, asking the questions of today in ways that encourage others to seek collaborative action.
How and where can people and their community or organization practice servant leadership?
4. Join the COP26 Regional Climate Weeks
Regional climate weeks in London, Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Mediterranean are all formal platforms where we can contribute. We must also support our home countries towards more ambitious climate actions in the NDCs, and to help advocate for greater climate finance through our networks. Sign up, listen, stay with the process, and distill the lessons and actions for distribution.
5. Collaborate with and join advocacy groups for climate action
While seeking to engage in the COP processes, it must also be recognized that the regional and global COP processes do not enable the full participation of those at the margins. It is difficult to gain access and during COP25, civil society groups were literally kicked out of proceedings after they protested the slow pace of negotiations.
Dialogues and strong collaboration need to be formed around all the meetings as these grow month by month in 2021 so that voices outside can influence and impact negotiations.
Engagement demands a process of drawing from personal experience in community accompaniment, in science, and in faith. We must go out and seek genuine dialogue where we actually listen and share in the lives and reality of the most vulnerable. Indigenous Peoples, the youth, women, farmers, fisherfolk – all have voices that need to be heard and platforms to participate. We need to link with other organizations to bring about this needed awareness and action.
Call for a steadfast and hope-filled engagement in climate action around COP26
Please follow the websites of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that leads the COP process, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for reliable and science-based information, and the official COP26 website for the latest news and information.
Ecojesuit looks forward to the collaborations that can be sustained from this conversation.