Evaluating COP26

November 22, 2021 in Featured News, News

Dr Ciara Murphy, Environmental Policy Advocate at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, reflects on her experience as an observer at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit in Glasgow. She discusses whether or not the summit met its aim to bring parties together to accelerate climate action and she speaks of her experience collaborating with other Jesuit organisations and faith groups. Dr Murphy also participated in a pilgrimage from Edinburgh to Glasgow which culminated in a march for climate justice. Click here for the previous story ».

How was your experience as an observer at the COP26 summit during the second week? For example, in the Blue Zone and Green Zone.

The Blue Zone of COP was initially a bewildering experience. This area is where the main negotiating happens in a mix of open and closed meetings, plenary meetings, panel discussions, side events and talks in the pavilions are held. This area is technically run by the UN with tight security around the entire parameter. Observers have access to most of these events but limited access to the actual negotiating talks themselves. In any one day there could be scores of events happening, identifying which events are the most beneficial to attend can be difficult and requires a lot of preparation.

During my time in the blue zone I was able to attend several events but only one meeting where negotiations were actually taking pace. Of the events that I attended the undeniable fact that the climate crisis is impacting people negatively, right now and not sometime in the future, was highlighted – in terms of loss of lives, livelihoods, homes, culture and the strain all of this has on mental health. Climate Justice cannot only mean reducing emissions, supporting those most impacted through climate finance and loss and damage payments is a vital part of climate action. The failure of developed countries to provide the promised climate finance to developing countries was the topic on many of the events I attended with particular attention on the importance of money for adaption to climate change, and loss and damage for when adaption is not possible. This injustice, where those least responsible for the climate crisis are the most impacted, was a significant aspect of the event both within the official event and in the external events and protests.

The green zone is an area close to, but separate from, the blue zone. This area is run by the UK government with security similar to the blue zone but on a much smaller scale as fewer people enter at any one time. During my time in Glasgow I had the opportunity to attend an event in the green zone titled ‘All Together Now: Collaboration for Climate Action in Northern Ireland’, hosted by Climate NI Network. This was a talk distilling both hope for climate action and a warning of the limitations of such bottom up action without being met in the middle by top down direction, ambition and resources. It also highlighted the potential of climate action to bridge political divides by providing opportunities to work on common actions.

How did you find the event personally?

I found the COP conference and the related activities organised by the UK Missions and other faith based organisations extremely worthwhile. COP can be a difficult thing to understand for people not overly involved in the process. However, attending the conference and seeing first hand some of the meetings gave me a valuable insight into the process.

In several events I attended over the few days I was lucky enough to be here, the role of grassroots and collective action was obvious. The subtext of this is that we do not need to rely only on the COP text to act. Communities are finding solutions to not only adapt to the changing climate but also mitigate their emissions. While the COP negotiations is a vital aspect of turning the tide from climate ambition to action, the important and sometimes underappreciated role of community and ground up action must not be forgotten.

Outside of the main COP events there was hope and solidarity to be found. The pilgrimage during the first week of COP was beneficial to the entire group as it allowed us to bridge the gap that is sometimes perceived between faith and ecology. The act of walking and forced slowing down gave us time to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural environment we were walking through. The climate justice march was incredible as joining with thousands of others calling for the same thing is a powerful experience.

Did the summit meet its aim (to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)? Please explain.

The rallying cry to keep 1.5 alive was one of the main aims of the UK Presidency of COP26. It can be argued that this aim has been achieved, however, it is without question not healthy. Research from the Climate Action Tracker put warming at 2.4 degrees when all the promises made at COP are totted together. While there is technically a path to keep warming to 1.5 degrees it is precariously narrow. The failure to include a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels in the text, concentrating instead on coal alone, is a disappointment although the mere appearance of the words is being hailed as an achievement. This success by increments will not keep temperatures below 1.5.

Where the real failures are obvious is the lack of real progress on the money side of things. At the 2009 COP summit in Copenhagen, rich nations made a significant pledge to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts already baked in. This promise has not been kept and there is nothing arising from the latest COP which give much confidence that the commitment of climate finance is strongly felt. The goal of $100 billion only needs to be reached as ‘as soon as possible’. While countries agreeing to double the collective share of finance for adaption is to be welcomed, depending on what the baseline is, this could still represent a small figure. Loss and Damage has for the first time been mentioned in the cover text coming from COP negotiations, however, there was no commitment to actually pay this debt as of yet.

What COP26 did achieve is to help elevate the climate crisis into people’s attention and to inject momentum into climate action globally. It acted as an opportunity for frontline communities around the world to share their stories of suffering and resilience.

What was your experience of collaborating with other Jesuit organisations and faith groups?

During my time in Scotland I had the opportunity to work alongside and get to know other people working in Jesuit organisations and faith based groups as well as Jesuits and novices from the UK and Indian Provinces. The Pilgrimage between Edinburgh and Glasgow, organised by Jesuit Missions UK, provided ample time to meet others who are experiencing an ecological conversion as part of their faith. Arriving in Glasgow and joining the climate justice march in the faiths block was an incredible experience. The sheer number of people who are active in the climate movement because of their faith is a sign that the climate movement is one that can be inclusive and diverse, gathering people of all faiths and none together to care for our common home.

EcoJesuit played an important role in the preparation for COP as well as the amplification of the climate justice message throughout the duration of the summit. The online event ‘Faith at the Climate Frontiers’, which took place on Monday 8th November was an exemplar of collaboration between the EcoJesuit team based in the Philippines and the delegates in Glasgow.

Not only did Jesuit Missions UK organise a lot of these events but they also obtained badges into the blue zone as official observers. As part of their delegation I had the opportunity to attend events with those from Jesuit Missions who are working on similar areas to me. This familiarity will enable us to collaborate more closely together on future projects.

What unique perspective have you shared of the summit? For example, from the events that you attended or were part of, insights from the people you met, and updates of your work alongside other Jesuit organisations.

It is not a unique perspective, it is one that I am sure I share with many who attended and are involved in the climate movement. We do not need to wait for the outcome of COPs to act. We can and must act now in whatever way is possible to us. COP is an important moment in the climate movement calendar. However, there are local, national and international ways we can act that do not necessarily depend on politicians. The divestment movement is one such example, local councils acting within their regions to mitigate and adapt to climate change is another. Community groups acting to preserve and enhance green areas or growing their own food are all pieces of the jigsaw needed.

Another perspective which I would like to amplify is that the impacts of climate change can be felt now, not some time in the future. There are people suffering now, and it is usually the people who have least contributed to the crisis. The loss of life, livelihood, cultural identity and homes cannot be mitigated against or adapted to. The people most impacted need support to survive what they have lost and build something new. This support is not charity but a debt owed by those who most benefited from the energy consumed which created this crisis.

Did COP26 mark a turning point for climate action? Please explain.

COP26 made some progression, small steps in the right direction but there were no major decisions made here that we can point to as a turning point for climate action. The launching of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which 11 countries have signed up to, the commitment some countries made to end deforestation and limit methane emissions are all positive. As is the mention of fossil fuels in the COP texts. However, the updated commitments provided over COP leads us on a path to 2.4 degree warming. This outcome will have consequences beyond anything we have experienced for those most impacted by climate change and will not be celebrated by those already suffering.

Travelling to COP was a worthwhile experience. Participating in the different aspects of it, the pilgrimage to Glasgow, the climate justice march and the Blue Zone offered different experiences and I come away with a slightly better knowledge of the mechanisms behind these international dialogues. I look for hope not only in this process but also in the countless other projects, alliances, collaborations and actions which exist and are growing.