Bishop John COP 26 Diary Part 2

Tuesday 9th November 2021

Day 5 – Thursday 4th November

I find it disappointing that the News is no longer headlining the Conference. Today’s main headline concerned the change of rules for the suspension of M.P.s., with the later news that the Prime Minister had done a U-turn in his decision and the M.P. had resigned. There are some individual items about COP26 but, perhaps now that many of the World Leaders have gone, there is thought to be no need for a complete report on what is happening. There are reports about Microsoft ceasing carbon emissions and eighteen nations have signed a commitment to stop burning coal – making a total of forty nations with this promise. Again, a time-frame for this agreement is not specified. But it was also reported that Australia, China and the United States (the biggest users of coal) did not sign. There was also the worrying news that CO2 emissions have returned to the pre-Covid level.

There was much talk yesterday about financing environmental repair and there is an article today claiming that many nations, including the United States, India, EU, China and developing economies have signed an agreement, which some are calling a “breakthrough agenda”. The signatories represent more than 70% of the world’s economy. But there are no specific details about the agreement. We must wait and see if details emerge.

There is also some negative reporting about the protest by Extinction Rebellion, with Police being sprayed with paint. I was unaware of the protest which took place in the centre of Glasgow, some distance from the Conference venue. I can only think that the protesters undermine their purpose by such actions and simply cause people to lose any further interest in environmental concerns. The protest at best achieves nothing and at worst is counter-productive. There is also news ridiculing the Prime Minister for returning to London in a private jet, to enjoy a dinner with a friend.

I should mention that the weather has been very good which, given the day’s walking is to be gratefully acknowledged. It is certainly cold but we have had three very sunny days and no rain at all, which is unusual for November in Glasgow. The forecast is not so kind.

I was able to attend a meeting in the Blue Zone which was concerned with interfaith collaboration. It certainly provided a sense of a global membership. There is the promise of continuing collaboration after the end of the Conference.

Following the very informative event about the River Atrato yesterday, I wanted to be sure to visit their exhibition today That meant the move from the Blue Zone to the Green Zone with the distance and security marathon again. But I was not disappointed by the exhibition. There were several indigenous people there and the displays gave a very clear picture of the destruction of the region and the present progress in repair and preservation. I met the young lady who had spoken so well last evening and has been such a staunch advocate for indigenous people’s rights. There were so many alarming statistics, not least that in 2020, no less than 199 indigenous people had been murdered by either drug traders or illegal loggers and miners. Throughout these days, I have seen several groups of indigenous peoples from South America, largely recognisable by the colourful feathered headdresses that many of the men and women wear.

The next two events were in the city, away from the Conference, so I decided to make a couple of visits. I went first to the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is on the river bank. A fine building which has been re-ordered in recent years and the work was done well. I thought that I would have a look at the church where I will be celebrating Mass and preaching on Saturday. But I mistakenly set my satnav for St Alphonsus when I should have been visiting St Aloysius! Never mind, neither were very far apart and it gave me a chance to see a bit more of the city centre. St Alphonsus is in the care of the Xaverian fathers. St Aloysius is a very grand Jesuit church on the top of a hill, surrounded by a college of the same name.

Not far away was the next event on food production and sustainable farming, sponsored by SCIAF. It was in a building call the Lighthouse which is normally an exhibition centre. There were several speakers presenting on farming in Zambia and Scotland. The uniting element was what was referred to as Agrocology or Agro-ecology. It was all about improvement of the quality of the soil, the right use of any fertiliser, the diversity of crops and various aspects of resilience to climate change. The point was made that we produce more than enough food for the world’s population but distribution is all wrong and all too many people do not have enough to eat, and tons of food are wasted and thrown away. The speakers were cautiously optimistic about the decisions being made at the Conference and there was a particular concern that great advances would be made if governments were to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples.

Finally, I attended a gathering organised by Christian Aid and Rev John Plant. This was held in the Salvation Army Centre. There has been an ecumenical group meeting on zoom quite regularly in recent months sharing ideas and information about the Conference. It was good to meet some of the members of the group in person and there were speakers from Bangladesh and Zambia who attested to the work of Christian Aid, particularly in assisting with new farming techniques.

Tomorrow I am on a panel of Christian clergy concerning the purpose and goals of the Conference.

Day 6 – Friday 5th November

Is it disappointment or annoyance? There was no mention at all on Radio Four News this morning about COP26. There was much said about the resignation of the Conservative M.P. for breach of the House of Commons lobbying rules. There was a lengthy piece about racism in the Yorkshire Cricket Club. There was talk about the Bank of England interest rates and inflation predictions. Nothing about COP26. I find that very surprising. There are still some 25,000 delegates here in Glasgow and there seems to be a frenzy of work and negotiations in the Blue Zone. There is certainly no shortage of media, with cameras everywhere and people being interviewed. We can only hope and pray that the initial agreements made by the World Leaders are now being hammered out into realistic policies and that the necessary radical and urgent statements will be made by the end of the Conference.

In the Blue Zone there is a large exhibition wall of cartoons, all making fun of the lack of action. Greta’s “Blah, blah, blah” features but there is mockery about words and no actions, delay, complacency, denial and evasion. While they are very amusing to see, there is a rather bitter taste to the whole thing.

The one mention of COP26 that I found was on BBC World Service where there was an item reporting that a financial package has been established for assisting poorer nations to combat climate change. The fund, originally proposed in the Paris Agreement, comes two years later than originally proposed. But it is something to celebrate.

At least the “Farming Today” programme was dedicated entirely to COP26 and how some farming practices are recognised as being healthy while others need to change and evolve. Given the events I attended yesterday, it was good to hear that farming and agriculture and sustainable food provision are seen to be directly connected to climate change and to be carefully considered in our policies and decisions.

The more I reflect on this conference the more I find myself concerned with the notion of “leadership”. What is its purpose and how should it find its direction? Certainly, leaders must make decisions for the advancement of the people that they lead. But to what extent should they, must they, be listening to the people? I cannot escape the experience that I have had here of people wanting to make their demands heard. The interfaith and ecumenical events have had a voice of unity. We may believe in God, or gods, in different ways but we share a common spirituality in having a priority of care for our environment, our world, our common home. The prayers uttered by people of nine different faiths, last Sunday, had no contradictions. There has also been the overwhelming evidence of people’s concerns, not least the young people who have shown in so many ways how concerned they are about their future. Surely, political leaders must acknowledge such concerns and respond with policies that are accountable.

I was only briefly in the Blue Zone to meet people that I had spoken to at an event on Wednesday but I was very surprised to see the place so full of young people. The main “Action Zone”, a meeting place, was full of people who were almost certainly in their twenties who had their laptops and briefcases ready for meetings. A further sign of the concerns of the younger generation.

Then I had to leave the zone and make my way to a church not far from the Conference venue. Christian Aid had invited me to be a member of a panel at the Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church. The purpose of the discussion was to measure our expectations for COP26 with what would seem to be unfolding in reality. I was on the panel with a lady presbyterian priest from Florida who was born in Venezuela and has thirty years involvement in climate care. There was a very articulate young lady from Zambia, working in sustainable agricultural practices, and a young student from Durham University who is much involved in the practical response to climate change in her London parish. There were not very many people physically present but who knows who might have been virtually there. It was a good discussion and I was full of admiration for the young activists.

Before arriving at that church I had made a short detour to Kelvingrove Park where young people were arriving for the Youth and Public Empowerment Day demonstration. There were already large numbers, a good hour before the procession was to begin. As I left the Christian Aid event at midday they were passing close to the church and I stood for a good while to see them pass. It will be interesting to know the likely numbers. The estimation beforehand was 8,000- 10,000 but I would not be surprised if there were many more than that. I had hoped more accurate figures might have been included in some news broadcast this evening, but I only heard “thousands”. At least there was some report of the demonstration. Greta Thurnberg has spoken strongly about young people not being heard and that she believes COP26 is a failure. Others commentators have responded that things are still on track for important decisions and success. We must see what happens.

A twenty four hour vigil has begun at St Aloysius Church and I will be there in the morning for the Mass and a talk from Fr Damian Howard, the British Provincial of the Jesuits. There is another interfaith march planned to follow the talk.

I went back to the Blue Zone and watched a couple of seminar discussions. I had not mentioned a large area between the two zones where various electric vehicles are on display: cars, lorries, tractors, buses. They seem to draw a good amount of attention. I saw the Formula One racing car again yesterday and read a bit about it; 100% electric.

Day 7 – Saturday 6th November

I had an early start as I was to preach at the Mass at St Aloysius at 9am. There was a good sized congregation, made up of people who had been attending the 24 hour vigil, those who were attending to hear Fr Damian Howard’s address and also those who were planning to join the march which was estimated to be some 50,000 strong. It was later reported to be probably in excess of 100,000. Bishop William Nolan, Chair of Justice and Peace, was celebrant and Bishop Martin Hayes, from Ireland, was also with us and an array of Jesuits.

My concern in the homily was to emphasise an optimism for all that COP26 needs to be, with the caution that realizable decisions need to be made and concrete steps achieved. As I had been preparing for the COP26 in recent weeks, I had held firmly to the two foundations for my optimism.

The first is the science that we now have. Scientists have established the cause of the damage now done to the environment through our age of industrialisation and our plundering of the earth’s resources which has so badly damaged parts of our world, bringing destruction to many indigenous peoples who have done least to cause it. That science is now accurately predicting what is happening to our common home in the form of, among other things, rising temperatures, freak storms and droughts, melting ice-caps and destruction of biodiversity. We have the knowledge and we must use it.

The second foundation of hope is the consensus now being expressed by so many people that policies and developments must change before irreparable damage is done. That was demonstrated by the thousands of young activists, representing millions of others, who demonstrated yesterday. I have experienced the consensus in the various ecumenical and interfaith gatherings during this week, representing a potential 80% of the world’s population. With both the knowledge and the desire for action, we should be moving in the right direction. However, there is the continuing criticism that the World Leaders are not responding in the radical manner which is required.

We must ask questions about the nature of leadership. Leaders are not in positions of power to seek their own advantage. They must have the good in view of the people they lead. That must surely mean that they listen to the aspirations and hopes of the people and then do all they can to realise those aspirations. This does not seem to be happening, or at least not happening quickly enough.

(We would find ourselves in a very different position if the World Leaders were pressing for a radical change in care for the climate, given the scientific knowledge, against a consensus of the people that there was no need to take any action. It would be necessary for the leaders to take a moral high ground and insist of a care for their people.)

I suggested that we can adopt two practical steps. The first is to give our own personal example of care for our common home by our own actions. We might think that individually we achieve nothing of value if we save a little electricity or water, eat more local produce, reduce waste and have a care for re-cycling. But our individual efforts are multiplied by the efforts of so many others and amount to a substantial impact. We must also pray for our political leaders. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you”. We can invite the guidance and the strength of the Holy Spirit to achieve all that is necessary in the work of our political leaders. We need, as Pope Francis says, to think globally and to recognise that each and every one of us has a part to play.

Following the Mass the group of the Jesuit Mission, who had been walking from Edinburgh, arrived at the church and, after a break and refreshments, we set off together to join the rally that was to march through Glasgow demanding action on climate health. Sadly, it had begun to rain and there was also a strong, gusting wind. That stayed with us all afternoon. We walked to Kelvingrove Park to the designated start of the march and there were quite long delays as the march got underway. We were part of a specifically Christian group; Christian Aid, CAFOD, SCIAG, Quakers, Church of Scotland and others. The rally and march had been scheduled from 12noon-3pm but there were several delays. We were left with almost no progress for a full hour because what we were told was a communist party group tried to block our path and a rather large and intimidating group of police had to secure our route. We arrived at our destination at about 4pm for speeches and a final rally.

At the end of the march I was meeting a journalist for a short interview, after which I was more than pleased to get back to the house and to some warmth. Having said that, I had a number of interesting conversations with people along the way, of all ages and experience but all very clear about their concern for the climate. There was a large group of CAFOD volunteers and supporters. There have been so many different placards in these days but Fr Damian Howard spoke of his favourite which read; “Things have got so bad that even the introverts have come”. That was echoed by a number of people who had never been on demonstrations before.

A quiet evening is welcome with time to read some of the many pamphlets and papers distributed during the walk. There is a wide variety of information about political views, re-cycling, art and music events. Some of the literature seems quite distant from climate concerns but, then again, Pope Francis reminds us that “everything is connected”.

Day 8 – Sunday 7th November

The “Sunday Programme” on Radio 4 this morning featured an Anglican Archbishop of Panama and a Hindu priestess, both of whom I have met while here in Glasgow. They were asked about the role of Faith in COP. Both felt that it would be very appropriate to have a more official presence and acknowledgement for Faith Leaders in COP meetings as they had a combined constituency of some 80-85% of people in the world. Having said that, they agreed that – even without any official space – the presence of Faith Leaders had been important during this last week and in previous COP meetings. Both referred to the sense of agreement about the spiritual priority in all Faiths about care for the environment and how constructive it is to have the opportunity to meet together.

Again, the general news had little to say about COP26, while reporting the demonstrations yesterday in Glasgow and other cities. There was a reference to some disruption and arrests in Glasgow but it was not made clear that the disruption came from a counter-demonstration and not from those concerned with marching for the climate. The mood among the climate demonstrators was, as far as I was aware, friendly and full of enthusiasm.

I attended three events today. The first was a Mass, hosted by the Bishops of Scotland, at St Aloysius church. The celebrant at the Mass was Bishop Hugh Gilbert, the president of the Scottish Conference of Bishops, and Bishop William Nolan gave the homily. It was quite a celebration with the enormous church very nearly full, with a most enthusiastic, and loud, choir. Bishop Nolan gave a very encouraging homily, again highlighting the need for action.

The Mass was followed by an ecumenical service at the Church of Scotland’s Cathedral. This is a magnificent 13th Century building and I wish there had been a bit more time to explore it. It is built in a dark red stone, with galleries and arches in profusion. The place was packed solid. There was a definite “civic” feeling to the service with several attendees wearing chains of office. It went well with applause for a primary school boy who enacted “A man’s a man for aw that” by Robert Burns, in a rich Scottish accent.

Finally, I had received an invitation to a reception given by the Taiwanese delegation. I understand that Taiwan is recognised as an independent state by only a few nations and states but the Vatican is one of them. Recent events have shown an unprecedented degree of aggression by China, with military aircraft in large numbers entering Taiwanese airspace. I have not heard of any other receptions by foreign governments in Glasgow, although they may well be taking place, but I imagine that the Taiwanese are pleased to use the opportunity to establish their diplomatic presence here. It proved to be a very happy experience.

Sunday has been a good day which has emphasised, yet again, the hopes of so many that COP26 is a moment of radical change and determination.

Day 9 – Monday 8th November

The BBC World Service had some news about COP26 during the night. One fact seems to be likely to stir discussion is that it has been established that 503 of the delegates attending the conference are in some way employed by oil companies, or have interest in, promoting the use of fossil fuels. That number is greater than any single nation and more than the total number of delegates from the eight worst effected countries. There was the suggestion, on the one hand, that these delegates are there to defend and promote the continuing use of fossil fuels or, on the other hand, they are there to assist in the transition away from fossil fuels. I assume the debate will continue.

Much has been said about the arrival of the many negotiators, for the second week of the conference. They must follow up on the decisions made by the World Leaders about de-forestation, methane, the financing of climate repair, particularly for the poorer nations. New decisions are to be made on transport and cities and agriculture. I wonder how much of the negotiation will be reported? It may be that we will simply have decisions but, hopefully, they will be clear and have attainable targets.

“Farming Today” had an item on the necessity of drastically reducing our meat consumption. It did not suggest that meat should not be consumed at all. But it was critical of COP26 for ignoring the question of meat consumption. 14.5% of all methane emissions come from farmed animals. We should reduce that by 20% by 2030. A delegate at the conference was suggesting that a person should reduce consumption of meat to 300 grams per week. There was a counter argument that our methane emissions in the UK are much less because our livestock feed on grass and not grain….. but this all gets a bit too technical for me.

My access to the Blue Zone has now expired. I am very grateful to CAFOD for giving me one of the passes available to them. I had a final visit to the Green Zone and many of the exhibits and stalls have changed again and there were still crowds, though not as many as each day last week. I then went to the main building of Glasgow University in search of the Catholic Chaplaincy, which I finally found. There are some very lovely stone building around the main university building, all bought up by the University as various faculties. I had gone to the Chaplaincy in order to see an exhibition about Blessed Carlo Acutis but that had been moved on to the Parish of St Columba so I made my way there. It gave me a good chance to see something more of Glasgow. There are some magnificent public buildings and exhibition places, but there is also some rather disappointing high density housing – as every city these days. There are certainly some large and impressive churches, though some are now converted into places of secular activities.

This is my last day in Glasgow and I must say that it has been a most interesting and privileged time for me. Although I have been clearly on the fringe of events, I have met some fascinating people and glimpsed something of the importance of the meeting and the enthusiasm of so many people, especially the young activists. The decisions to be made at the end of this week must be a definite step forward in the much longer process. We can certainly not afford any more delays.

I will hope to write a final entry to this diary as the decisions and results of the conference emerge at the weekend. I hope that what I have written in these past nine days has given you a bit of an insight into the activities and scale of this COP26. It could well prove to be the most important meeting of our generation; one at which we either made the radical decisions to protect and nurture our common home for our brothers and sisters, or we missed a final opportunity and resigned ourselves to the irreparable damage of climate change for future generations. There is certainly a need for continuing prayer. Not the most optimistic note on which to end but we must never, as Pope Francis insists, lose sight of hope.

Note for Day 10 – Tuesday 9th November.

I am pleased to begin the day with the headline news that Sir Patrick Valance, Chief Scientific Advisor, and former President Barak Obama – both attending COP26 – have issued dire warnings about the priority of tackling climate change, claiming it as a greater danger than the Covid pandemic. Hopefully, this sets the tone for the on-going negotiations.

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