This article was written by James Appleby, one of the COP26 workers from Britain. Any opinions included here are entirely his own.
From the 1st to the 14th of November, I visited Glasgow for the COP26 climate change conference. This is the personal story of my experiences of the COP, what I saw and how I felt things went.
From the start, my COP26 experience reminded me of the need for urgent climate action. On the 31st of October, a huge windstorm pushed down a large number of trees on the line between Milton Keynes and Rugby. This left many people who wanted to travel north, myself included, stranded and unable get where they needed to be for the whole day. As well as highlighting how climate change is already causing dramatic weather events, it also demonstrated how poorly adapted the UK is to this sort of occurrence. Furthermore, it shows how neglected our public transport system is. Those who drove or took an aeroplane to Glasgow had no such problems! If the UK wants to be the climate leader if claims to be, improving its existing railway system would be a vital step forward.
One day later I finally managed to board a train heading north to Glasgow. The rest of the day was spent familiarising myself with Woodlands Methodist Church, which would be our base of operations for the next two weeks, and meeting my fellow CJ4A colleagues, all but one of whom I had only ever met through the computer. Finally coming together as a group of six was a great experience for all of us, and we all looked forward to the weeks ahead.
In the first week of COP26, Faith for the Climate, an interfaith group who we had worked alongside in the run up to COP, and Christian Aid ran several panel events, at which Mollie, Irene and Jessica spoke on different days. This was a great opportunity to both share our own stories and listen to those of others from other religious groups.
Over both weeks the Woodlands Methodist Church ran evening events. On Monday we had music from Iran, on Tuesday a panel discussion about the work of the Methodist church on climate action, and on Wednesday some music and poetry from Scotland. On Thursday Jessica spoke about how climate change causes gender injustice in Zambia, where women are more disadvantaged by climate catastrophe than men. She was joined by Shamiso who shared her own story about similar injustice in Zimbabwe, where drought had caused some families in her village to marry off young girls to have enough money to survive. On Friday Irene spoke about youth activism in Italy and shared the work she had been doing with volunteers to motivate action with young people. It was really encouraging to see so many volunteers working on this project with Irene, and to see a side of the project the rest of us were unaware of with our limited local perspectives.
Much of the rest of my week was spent preparing the tech and content for our weekend event, CJ4A LIVE, with the help of Jennifer from the Strathclyde circuit and Tim from All We Can. Later in the week we were also joined by Hannah from JPIT, who helped with the running of CJ4A LIVE, and the setting up of the posters that we had been sent by the volunteers.
CJ4A LIVE was a twelve-hour church service that took place in two six-hour blocks over Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th, so that people in different time zones were able to tune in at a time that worked for them. It featured contributions of videos from across the globe and covered a diverse range of topics relating to climate change, from the impacts on island communities to the work being done to adapt to the changes. My contributions to the event were a talk on the science of the greenhouse effect and sources of greenhouse gases, and an address that looked at the role humanity plays in the wider ecosystem, and how we should learn to live alongside the other species on earth. The event was broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube and people tuned in from all six continents!
After we had finished CJ4A LIVE we had little time to rest, as we were whisked away to Glasgow Cathedral for an Ecumenical service with denominations from all over Scotland. Maima read a prayer at the service, and the rest of us were invited to sit in the second row from the front and had a great view of the event.
After this we joined the Young Christian Climate Network to speak to John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, about the role young people have played in church action on climate change and the work the Scottish government had done for the environment. In this event Jessica invited Mr Swinney to read our Global declaration, and he said he would pass it on to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, to have a read of too!
Coincidentally, in the second week of COP some of the team actually bumped into Nicola Sturgeon, who had already met Rev James Bhagwan, Maima’s line manager. I didn’t have access to the Blue Zone where the world leaders were congregating, but I was able to spend a lot of time in the Green Zone. This area was populated by both non-profit NGOs, and various companies who were sharing the actions they were taking to tackle climate change. Some of these commitments were a little hollower than others, leading to some at the COP to dub the area the “Greenwash zone”! However, the zone was also a platform for several talks each day, which were anything but greenwashing. Many were platforms for the voices of indigenous people, who despite making up less than 5% of the world’s population, protect 80% of its biodiversity. One panel of women spoke about how indigenous knowledge can benefit the wider world, and how low-cost technology is being used by indigenous people to survey and protect their land. Another event used storytelling and music in the Sami language to portray the relationship between humans and salmon. I also attended a few short film screenings, which looked at how best to share a message about climate change to different audiences. This has given me much to think about, particularly with regards to the seven short films created as part of this campaign, and how they could be used in different contexts.
Monday evening was the turn of Maima to speak on the experiences of the climate crisis in the pacific, where rising sea levels are forcing people to migrate. This event took the form of a Talanoa discussion, where we shared a bowl of Kava, a plant that is added to water to create a drink that is shared during meetings in the pacific, which helps people to open up and speak freely. Due to COVID restrictions we used classic Methodist communion glasses to share the kava, which made for a wonderful cultural crossover. We were joined by a number of people from Fiji and other pacific nations who shared their experiences, which were very moving to hear, and left a big impact on everyone who attended. On Tuesday evening Camila spoke energy in Uruguay, a nation which gets 98% of its electricity from renewables. This was followed by some discussion about the practicality of achieving this level of renewable energy use in other nations, particularly the highest emitters.
On the Friday the events in the Blue and Green Zones ended to give the world leaders space to come to a final agreement. This was supposed to happen on Friday, but the deliberations continued long into Saturday. Our group decided that there was little we could do in Glasgow, so we visited Edinburgh using our COP26 travel passes. We had a great day seeing all the landmarks in Edinburgh and I even managed to fit in a short trip to the National Museum of Scotland.
Towards the end of Saturday 13th, the leaders of the world announced that they had agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact. While it set out some hopeful goals, such as ending deforestation by 2030 and cooperation to reduce methane emissions, it was ultimately a rather disappointing and unambitious document that fell short of both what the UK presidency of COP26 had set out to achieve, and what vulnerable nations had been saying needed to be achieved. The pledges made by nations would hypothetically reduce global emissions somewhat by 2030, but these will still result in warming of more than 1.5°C.
It’s hard to see a bright side coming out of COP26, especially for those communities most at risk who need urgent action. It is hoped that COP27 might prove to be a turning point, but it does feel like world leaders are still ignorant of how important it is to make big changes now. Every nation acknowledges that there is a need to do something, but few are willing to do very much, particularly if it inconveniences them. It highlights all the more strongly that international cooperation is needed.
As activists we cannot give up the fight for climate justice. We have to continue to reduce our own personal emissions as much as we can, especially when our governments fail to do enough. The 2021 IPCC report highlights that animal agriculture is highly emission intensive, and that plant-based diets have a huge greenhouse gas mitigation potential. Consider reducing the meat content in your own diet. Travel is another major source of emissions, and thinking about how this can also be reduced is important too. Thirdly, look at how your money is invested, particularly your pension fund. Is it funding the sort of activities you want to see in the world? We also need to keep applying pressure on our governments and business leaders to make the big changes that we need to see in the world. Examine prayerfully who you vote for and who you buy from, in the light of their actions at COP. Do you feel the current leaders of nations and businesses are doing the right thing?
Thank you to everyone who helped us over the two weeks of COP26 and the two years in the run up to it.
Thank you to Laurent, Andrew, and the congregation of Woodlands Methodist Church for letting us use their building as our base of operations over the two weeks. Thank you to Jennifer for helping to set up the technology and to Liz for printing out the posters sent by the volunteers.
Thank you to Tim from All We Can for his work getting the tech, particularly StreamYard, to work. Thank you to Natalie from global relationships for sorting the travel arrangements.
Thank you to Christina, Crystal, Danielle, Rev Jason, Rev John, Jonathan, Mary, Nazeel, Nisha, and Shamiso for sending videos and posters for use in CJ4A LIVE and as displays at Woodlands Methodist Church. Thank you to the rest of the volunteers for your other contributions throughout the year to the worship resources, and through sharing the resources with your communities.
Thank you to our steering group: Aimee, Andy, Dave, Hannah, Lynne, Rachel, and Steve for guiding us through the last 19 months of work and for helping us to form our ideas about what CJ4A could be. I am truly thankful to each one of you for the opportunity that this project has given me, and it has been a life changing experience.
Finally, I want to thank the rest of my CJ4A team for an unforgettable two weeks and for all the hard work you have put into the campaign, which would not have been possible without any of you!