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CoP 26: Delay, worry and uncertainty?

Adrian Shaw

Eco Congregation Scotland.

The United Nations climate conference, CoP 26 was due to come to Glasgow, in November 2020, a flying circus of diplomats, scientists, NGOs and protesters all pursued by the world’s media. We were expecting 20,000 or more to descend on the city for two weeks of negotiations, frustrations and all night sessions, leading to an uncertain outcome. The conference has now been postponed for twelve months and should take place in November 2021.

In the face of accelerating climate change we know what needs to be done: we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases by transforming our economy. We must go electric, burn less oil, gas and coal, fly less (if at all), rebuild or re-insulate houses and consume altogether less stuff. Also we must, in the rich countries of the world, compensate the developing countries for the enormous loss and damage caused by climate change that they now face. All logical and sensible and utterly against the grain of the consumerism and nationalism that dominates so much political discourse and demands eternal growth and ‘me first’ government policies.

If this was not challenging enough along comes the pandemic upending the traders tables and facing us with an unpalatable truth: that we are not as mighty as we think we are but actually weak and vulnerable in the face of capricious nature. Where does this leave us and what happens to the CoP? The truth is that with one year to go nobody yet knows. The UN and UK governments insist that the CoP will go ahead in Glasgow in November 2021 but for every month that goes by with the virus still rampant then a full scale CoP looks less likely. The rise of Zoom and other video conferencing technologies has showed us that we do not need to travel and that we can communicate effectively, if less fully, without personal proximity. The 75th anniversary General Assembly of the UN was conducted in part by video conferencing with world leaders recording contributions from afar. So it is possible that the CoP could go online in part or in large measure.

And what of the content, does the pandemic make it more or less likely that the glacial pace of international agreement will warm and accelerate or freeze to a standstill? The signals are confusing. Most governments accept the need to take action but even the most progressive are unwilling or unable to challenge the paradigm of consumer capitalism or the panacea of economic growth. President Donald Trump has done his best to derail the agreement which has, paradoxically, caused many of his opponents in the US to strengthen their commitment to change. The EU is promoting a new green deal but sanctioning the building new gas pipelines from Russia. The Scottish Government is open to discussions about a just and green recovery but cannot bring itself to call for an end to the North Sea oil industry.

We live in a time of trial and uncertainty with the need for change and renewal pressing in upon us while at the same time we are gripped by a life threatening pandemic. In this crisis is there an opportunity for people of faith in Scotland to show leadership? We may not know the way out of these troubles but we can see in faith, hope and love the essential tools to find a way. It's good news that the theological forum of the Church of Scotland is working on eco-theology; it’s great news that there are over 500 eco-congregations in Scotland taking practical action to care for creation; and exciting that Interfaith Scotland is reaching out to the UN and representatives of faith groups around the world to welcome them to Glasgow, in person or online. In prayer, in action and in advocacy there will be found a way.

Glasgow Churches Together are encouraging congregations and others in and around Glasgow to get involved. You can find out more at the Eco Congregation Scotland website:

As we walk in the midst of trouble, increase the strength in our souls and fulfil your purpose in us.

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