The Brahma Kumaris (BK) delegation, led by Maureen Goodman, rose energetically to the challenge of communicating hope and resilience in a time of climate emergency at November’s COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, even as the civil society participation was more restricted than at Glasgow in 2021.
Our multinational team, drawn from countries in the Arabian Gulf and Europe, and from India, covered all ages and brought their multiple talents and commitment to this “African COP”.
Billed as the “COP of Implementation”, the UNFCCC meeting failed on many counts, not least in the vital tasks of eliminating exploitation of all fossil fuels and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although a loss and damage fund finally made it onto the official agenda – some thirty years after it was first mooted – no concrete proposals emerged.
In panel discussions, press conferences, meditation sessions and an exhibition in the UN Blue Zone, the BKsfocussed on raising awareness, founded on the principle that the state of the world reflects humankind’s inner state of consciousness. Meditation and deep reflection on our innermost values, complemented by aligning our actions accordingly, benefit ourselves, others, the environment.
The spiritual approach provided respite for negotiators, delegates and visitors. We reached out to offer thoughtful reflection and gentle guided meditations. We listened to those who needed to express their anxiety and frustration. At the exhibition, the team explained our environmental work and distributed blessings cards that became a real talking point. And we offered warmth and hospitality to friends old and new at several receptions.
International co-ordinator of the BK Environment Initiative, Sonja Ohlsson, reflected on the experience: “The need for inner peace has become more apparent than ever. There is a tangible feel of hopelessness, even despair, among the global community present at COP meetings. Our exhibition served thousands of people through encouraging and spiritual encounters offering hope and inner calm. And our programmes with other organisations equally provided an oasis of tranquillity in the midst of the noise and stress.”
The BKs participated in over 25 events, many in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and actors in interfaith, academic and youth sectors. Such partnerships have become a feature of COP meetings, amplifying voices that formerly were rarely heard at high-level summits.
Speaking up for the majority
The interfaith sector gathers strength with every COP, and, as over 80% of the world’s population subscribes to a faith or spiritual tradition, this broad-based constituency can truly claim to speak for the global majority.
On the eve of COP27, we joined with faith-based organisations (FBOs) in a debate on the climate emergency held in the spirit of a Talanoa Dialogue. Topics included climate justice and human rights, indigenous rights, financing for loss and damage, and an international law of ecocide. The outcome was a Talanoa Call, pressing for urgent, equitable action in these and other areas.
At the Dialogue, and in subsequent events, Maureen Goodman, BK program director for the UK and our representative at the UN, Vienna, highlighted the theme of inner awareness, and how our consciousness affects the environment. At a press conference marking the declaration of Ten Universal Principles for Climate Justice, she called for policy makers to approach decision-making with a “different lens” for the benefit of humanity and the whole planet.
Walking the talk: Agriculture to solar energy
Valeriane Bernard, co-chair of the Interfaith Liaison Committee, contributed to a wide-ranging discussion of concrete steps taken by FBOs to combat the climate crisis, during a press conference that featured an impressive raft of measures on a global scale.
From living simply and following a vegetarian/vegan diet, to renewable energy and an innovative approach to farming in rural India (sustainable yogic agriculture), she demonstrated that the Brahma Kumaris really walk the talk.
In his presentations to the press, BK Energy Advisor Golo Pilz described both the breadth and depth of the organisation’s commitment to renewables, from the introduction of solar cookers in the 1990s, to the commissioning, in 2017 of the huge “India One” solar thermal power station at headquarters in Rajasthan. There was also considerable interest in the project among visitors to the exhibition.
Children and Youth Pavilion: Changing the discourse
A shift towards the young generation was perhaps unsurprising at this “African COP”, given Africa’s overwhelmingly young population. Our team, fresh from the preceding COY meeting, took part in several events at the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion, where visitors sensed a notable buzz of energy.
We tapped into this shift with an interactive and fun workshop on the Living Values educational programme, presented by Aneta Loj, Piyush Ahuja and Shantanu Mandal. They demonstratedthisholistic approach to nurturing hearts and educating minds, and introduced a new publication, “Caring for the Earth”, based on the values of simplicity and caring.
At youth-oriented press conferences and panel discussions, the BKs spoke of empowerment and action. They outlined efforts from the Arabian Gulf to India to reduce consumption, plant and nurturetrees and introduce regenerative agriculture. Rounding off an interfaith youth panel, Shantanu led a meditation as participants held tiny lights; one audience member praised the event as an example of young people’s capacity to “find new narratives, dream new dreams.”
Facilitating open-hearted discussion
Significant among the many highlights for the BKs at COP27 were collaborations strengthened, friendships renewed, new connections made. The Co-Creative Reflection and Dialogue Space hosted by Germany’s Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies proved a notably effective venue for open discussion of challenging issues by a wide cross-section of participants.
Carolin Fraude moderated numerous sessions with academics, campaigners, UN officials, spiritual practitioners and others. Theirexchanges, for example on creating trust and moving away from a climate of fear (e.g.in environmental negotiations), were as thoughtful as they were wide-ranging.
For participants and visitors, the experience could bring release: “This is the only space of its kind at the Conference where people can speak from their heart,” Maureen commented later after contributing to a number of gatherings there.
Woven into the fabric of the COP fortnight, such memories of connecting and sharing with others form the weft of our experience. We look forward to COP28 in the UAE next year.