Bishop John COP 26 Diary Part 1

Wednesday 3rd November 2021

Bishop John is currently attending COP 26 in Glasgow on behalf of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. We will be sharing his diary from the gathering each day:

Diary and Reflections

During Covid I have not travelled at all with Cafod, and so there have been no diaries. But now, at the invitation of the Bishops of Scotland, I am to be in Glasgow for the COP26 meeting, representing the Bishops of England and Wales. I feel privileged at the prospect of being in close proximity with what many people feel is the most important international meeting of our generation and one at which radical and urgent decisions need to be made. I will be attending a number of fringe events and I have access to the “Blue Zone” which I hope will give me an opportunity to see the meeting unfold in different ways.

I am writing this short introduction to the diary as I prepare to travel to Glasgow on Sunday 31st October.

As we approach the beginning of the COP26 meeting, I think it I would find it helpful, for my own benefit, to reflect on what has happened and what might be expected. I think that, even if I had not become so involved directly with the preparations for this meeting, within the Diocese and for the Bishops’ Conference, I would have been surprised by the increase in interest that is being shown by a wide diversity of people. Certainly, the news broadcasts have increased and many of the political affairs programs have had COP26 as a subject for discussion. No other meeting on any subject, in my experience, has been so widely publicised. So many people seem to be well aware of its approach. There have been strong statements from politicians, Faith leaders, organisations and – so encouragingly – from many young people who are becoming increasingly committed to a sense of care for our common home.

Having said that, I have been surprised by just a few comments from people who seem not to have heard about it at all – people who I would have thought would have been aware simply through news broadcasts.

In recent weeks we have seen marches to Glasgow, youth events, parish events, and the publication of numerous reports, all highlighting the ever more disturbing evidence of the damage of climate change. The worst report came from IPCC which was damning in its claims of our global failure to respond to the urgency of the situation.

I had hoped that Pope Francis would have attended the conference, even if briefly. Given his leadership, both within the Church and well beyond, I was sure that his presence would have made an important impact. However, for whatever reason, he will not be there. In these last few days, other world leaders have been confirming their presence or absence. It is so important that the leaders of all the economically strong nations be present, that the leaders of the worst affected nations attend, so that global decisions can be made.

There is a real concern that some pre-Conference submissions have been made which would seem to be suggesting a compromise on the decisions to be made. It is sincerely to be hoped that there be no compromise in the light of the urgency with which we are faced.

I look forward to recording events and impressions during these coming days. May I commend us all to a sense of daily prayer that the conference may achieve all that is urgently required so that we may offer a healthy planet to future generations.

Day One – Sunday 31st October

The train journey through the Northwest was full of very beautiful and dramatic scenery and I was left with thoughts that this is just a part of what we need to preserve and protect. That was strengthened by the evidence of the recent heavy rainfalls which showed in so many flooded fields and overflowing rivers and streams.

The train journey under very dark and threatening skies – with the promise of even more rain – brought me to Glasgow by midday and I was met at the station by Bishop William Nolan, the spokesman for the Environment for the Bishops of Scotland. We had not actually met in person before but we have had numerous exchanges of emails in preparation for the meeting. I suspect that we will be in one another’s company much of this week.

Our first engagement, having left luggage at the railway station, was a COP Interfaith Vigil hosted by CIDSE, which is short for “Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité”, and is an umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America. It was held outside, in George Square – in the heart of the city. The event described itself as part of the vigil to the conference. It was quite a remarkable meeting, not so much for the crowd (which was large enough) but for the diversity. It became a place of prayer where nine different faiths prayed for the challenge and the success of the COP. (Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Brahman, Sikh, Baha’i, Hindu, Pagan, Moslem). What was so impressive was the consensus that we all shared, in our different beliefs, in the importance of care for our common home. Many different groups were represented and I met people who had walked from London and even from Germany. Also impressive was the age range, young adults to senior citizens.

Having spoken with a number of people – some I had met before in various places – we went to the City Chambers, a rather magnificent civic building overlooking George Square with sumptuous marble interiors, for a reception and speech by the City’s Provost. He added a political statement to our religious commitment, praising Glasgow for its progressive action in combatting climate change. Again, a sense of urgency and purpose was clearly expressed.

So I feel that, as I arrive here in Glasgow, there is a very clear demonstration of what seems to be a universal call for action to combat climate change. The language of speeches, prayers, placards and handouts shares the same language of last chance urgency and our responsibility to future generations. Has there ever been, at least in our generation, any other meeting which has aroused the dedication and commitment of so many people – religious groups, NGO’s, indigenous peoples and young people throughout the world? I hope that the world leaders are listening and will feel that their radical actions will be gladly endorsed by people throughout the world.


Day Two – Monday 1st November

The news from early morning has COP26 in the headlines. The Prime Minister, speaking in Rome yesterday, has suggested that we are at “one minute to midnight” and serious action is essential. Will such words be followed by decisions and actions? There was also the very gloomy statement from scientists that, at the present rate, we will fail to maintain a 1.5 degrees increase in temperatures and the present reality suggests a 2.7 increase – which will have catastrophic consequences, particularly in the global south which has already suffered so much.

Speakers on the radio compared the present situation to the mobilisation for war. When war is approaching everything else is regarded as having a secondary importance. Unfortunately, too many world leaders seem to regard the economy as the priority which must mean that our efforts combatting climate change remain secondary. But, as one speaker said, if we do not successfully contain climate change there will be no economy.

After an early Mass I went first to the offices of SCIAF (Scotland’s equivalent to CAFOD) and had time with the director, Alistair. CAFOD and SCIAF work well in partnership and there was plenty to discuss. Then came the time to get to COP26. There are, as usual for these conferences, two zones. The Green Zone is open to anyone who applies and receives tickets to the many and various events. It is really a place of exhibition for NGOs and various groups and all sorts of subjects are included: animal welfare, farming, human rights, technology etc. It required a full airport-style security check. I was there to attend two appointments. The first was a forum entitled “Are Religious Leaders Rising to the Climate Challenge” There were three speakers: an Anglican bishop, a Chief Rabbi and a Grand Iman. As yesterday at the Interfaith rally, there was a great consensus about the importance of stewardship of creation and care for humanity. All three admitted that, while good work is increasingly being done by Faith Leaders, there is more required. The second event was really just a visit to a stand which is promoting “Climate Sunday” and where many places of worship have signed up to practical tasks and prayers.

I was able to get the free COP bus back to the Blue Zone which is a much more restricted area for delegates and national exhibitions and stands. It has been quite a bureaucratic struggle on the computer to gather the documentation and permissions required, which I had to present after another full airport-style security check, together with passport. All this has been made all the more complicated by Covid and the need for people to register their vaccinations and daily tests. I received the important “Observer” badge, which is valid for most of the time I am here. That came with a free hygiene kit containing a mask, surface wipes and a bottle of sanitiser. There was also a rather generous travel card giving free travel throughout Glasgow, and beyond, during the conference

Tomorrow will be different, with a Mass celebrated with Bishop John Keenan at the Vigil of the Knights of St Columba and a visit to another exhibition called the “Green Church Showcase” among other things.

The world leaders are gathering today and they have a reception this evening, with the real work beginning tomorrow. This is where prayer needs to count!

Day 3 – Tuesday 2nd November

Last evening saw the arrival of Cardinal Parolin and the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Gugerotti, at the house. The Cardinal will speak at the Conference today before returning to London this evening. All World Leaders are invited to speak which means that they are very much restricted in time as to what they can say. The Cardinal will be outlining Pope Francis’ three stage message, summarising the statement of the World Faith Leaders on 4th October. The first appeal is that we must not lose sight of the limit of 1.5 degrees in global warming. The second is the recognition of the need to provide funds for the poorer nations in their transition to carbon neutrality and for loss and damage. The third is the broader ambition of the transition of economies, where there is the provision of “green jobs”, re-forestation, reliance on renewable energies, cessation of fossil fuel use. There seems to be no doubt that, even in his absence, Pope Francis is making an impact on the Conference. His “Thought for the Day” on Radio Four last Friday drew much positive comment. He had spoken about the climate crisis in very direct terms but said very clearly that “crises” give rise to “possibilities” and “opportunities”. His challenge to world leaders was loud and clear.

My day began with the radio news of a decision, within the Conference, that there will be an end to deforestation. This would be a major commitment, and a very necessary one, but can these words be realised in action? We have heard all too much about the illegal de-forestation of the Amazon which seems to be ignored by governments and which impacts directly and very violently on the indigenous peoples. We have called the Amazon forest the “lungs of the Earth” but it was recently admitted that it actually now produces more carbon than it absorbs. There will no doubt be further statements to explain the details of the decision and how it is to be implemented but it would seem to be a very important start to the Conference. Interestingly, the Brazilian delegation appear to have been in agreement with the decision. There has also been an agreement during today, by at least eighty countries, to cut methane emissions.

Today I had time to wander through the Blue Zone which was already bursting with activity. I will spend as much time as I can, in the next few days, just wandering about here. National stalls, organisations, lecture rooms, exhibitions, all seeming to promote the care of the environment. I was a little puzzled by an enormous Formula One racing car being exhibited with some claim to “going a step greener”. It is interesting to see Saudi Arabia and China also represented. What surprised me today was the sheer size of the territory of this Conference. I walked from one large hall to another through tented areas. I suspect that it was a full half mile from one end to the other, with galleries off to each side and everywhere busy.

My first meeting of the day is with Lord Deben, Chair of our Government’s Climate Change Committee. (I found the place where we had arranged to meet but had time for a lengthy conversation with two Buddhist monks from America. The emphasis, again, was on all that we have in common in our concerns about the health of the environment). Lord Deben has been a very helpful member of the Environment Advisory Board of the Bishops’ Conference where we discuss the development of our environmental policy and network our ideas and experience.

My next appointment was in a church a few miles away. The Knights of St Columba is staging 40 Hours of Adoration and I had been invited to concelebrate a Mass with Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley. A speedy combination of bus, train and taxi got me across the city in forty five minutes, in time for the Mass. I am so pleased to see an accent on prayer and its importance in all these proceedings. It is good to see that Glaswegians are not just hosting the Conference but taking a more active interest, with prayer services in several churches of various denominations during these days.

Bishop Keenan kindly invited me back to his Cathedral and curial offices which were just a twenty minute drive away. Dioceses are small in this part of Scotland. It was a very interesting visit and a chance to learn about another diocese and compare priorities.

During the short stay in Paisley, emails announced that Cardinal Parolin wanted to meet with the Scottish bishops and the evening planned by the Scottish bishops to host us visitors had to be brought forward so that the Cardinal had time to meet with them and get to the airport. I will report on the evening, tomorrow.

The local press has been full of news about the Conference. The Queen’s message, by video link from Windsor, has been much praised. The papers quote her saying that “the time for words has moved to the time for action”. Greta Thurnberg is quoted as being much more direct and demanding, as might be expected. Addressing a gathering in Festival Park, close to the COP26 venue, she said “Change is not going to come from inside there – that is not leadership. This is leadership “We say no more blah, blah, blah, no more exploitation of people and nature and the planet”. There is also a lot of complaint about the “HypCOPcrisy” of the billionaires arriving in private jets and on luxury yachts, with their use of helicopters. Apparently, some four hundred of the “world’s elite” have travelled here by private yet.

In as far as I can judge it, the mood seems to be very positive. Many of the World Leaders are apparently leaving after a couple of days and their various staff members and experts will carry on the work here. Does that mean that serious decisions have already been made, beyond questions about de-forestation? We must await the official pronouncements and not drift into speculation. So far, the overall mood seems to be that this is the moment, possibly the final opportunity, to get the right plan in place. Prayers please!

Day 4- Wednesday 3rd November

The Headlines this morning highlight the two important decisions about the end of deforestation by 2030 and the cutting of methane emissions. They are certainly significant but there must be a rigorous plan for implementation. I have not been able to listen to the news but there was a buzz at the Conference about important decisions being made about the financing of the work to be done and the granting of money to the poorer nations for what is called “loss and damage”.

I spent time in the Green Zone and it is an impressive exhibition. Just walking along one gallery there were the following stalls: Farming welfare, Fairtrade, Interfaith Climate Concern, Lawyers for Net Zero (The Law Society), Food waste, Royal Bank of Scotland environment policy, Planting, The National Grid, Hitachi, Exhibition on the melting of ice-caps, Women and Gender Constituency, Video games based on climate education, Global Health, Meditation Room, Eco-garden and Universities Climate Network.

I got a message that my meeting had been transferred to the Blue Zone and I went as quickly as I could to the Blue Zone. But the queues and the security meant that I arrived as the meeting finished. All was not lost, as there was the opportunity to spend time investigating the Blue Zone with all its stands for almost every country, for multi-nationals and environmental groups. There were numerous seminars, lectures and panels and the place was really very crowded and busy. It is so impressive to see all these people, with their experience and expertise, all working on the care of the environment. No doubt there are some who might be climate-change deniers and others who might be complacent but the great majority seem to be understanding the urgency and working on a solution. This, of course, is my first global conference and I have nothing with which to compare it but those I am speaking to, who have attended several others such conferences, have all said that they feel there is an energy and an optimism that this is working well. The strangeness is compounded by the fact that just about everyone is complying with the rule of wearing masks. It is difficult to recognise people and to engage with them.

The next, and final, event for me today was at Glasgow University, a half hour’s walk from the Conference. Fortunately, I was with a member of the CAFOD team who was a student there and knew the way. The main building of the University is a magnificent structure on the top of the hill in central Glasgow.

The event was a presentation by a team of people from Colombia and the project is a partnership with CAFOD and SCIAF. It concerns the River Atrato which runs the length of Colombia into the Caribbean Sea. The land and its peoples have been exploited and, after the end of the war in Colombia, five years ago, this region has suffered even more. The river Atrato, with its 19 tributaries, runs through the heartland of the indigenous people. It is vital to them. It provides for their food, their transportation, their recreation and is revered as a spiritual mother. But it has been exploited and polluted. There has been mining, deforestation, palm oil and banana plantations, illegal logging. The indigenous people have been massacred (officially 27 massacres have been recognised by the government) by those exploiting the land and there has been a fast-growing drug cultivation and trade. The people have lost their traditional practices, their food security and their social connections.

The indigenous groups responded with civil rights actions and managed to have the River Atrato registered with its own legal rights – only the third river in the world to be recognised in this way. At first the government tried to impose policies of their own but further civil actions have meant that the indigenous people now have control of policies affecting the river and surrounding land and have a Commission of Guardians (8 men and 6 women) who oversea its protection. They are presently insisting that the abandoned mine workings and machineries are removed and are providing education for the children. They have not yet achieved all that they have set out to do but this is a story of determination, progress and success. I would certainly be pleased to visit with CAFOD.

All in all, it has been a busy and useful day. There have been two rather lovely moments when complete strangers, an Anglican priest and a young Moslem man, have approached me and wanted to congratulate the Diocese of Salford on its environmental work!

End of Day Four

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