Wherever we are in the world, the outcome of the COP27 meeting these past two weeks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, will disappoint many of us.
Even so, examples of quiet strength and conviction emerged. Faith-based organisations, present throughout, spoke up for first principles: climate justice, human rights, finance for the suffering. They discussed practical steps, from divesting funds from fossil fuel companies to voting according to environmental values, and they brought release and hope in presentations and meditation sessions.
Negotiating to an impasse
For two weeks, we hoped for an agreement to take meaningful action to reduce and eventually – indeed rapidly – eliminate the use of fossil fuels; to provide the finance ($100 bn a year) previously promised for hard-hit countries; and to forge a new mechanism, with funding, for loss and damage suffered by them.
In other words, we waited for a commitment to act for those that have caused the least harm in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases and yet suffer the most, starting now.
But what we heard, in essence, was: business as usual. This is breath-taking.
As one civil society witness said: It is well past time to stop “commodifying the sacred”. An indigenous leader from Brazil commented: All we get from “nature-based solutions” is privatisation of our lands, animals and traditions. Whatever programmes emerge from governments and COP meetings are “false solutions.”
We heard the powerful testaments of countries in danger of sinking beneath the waves with the projected rise in sea levels – the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu. And we listened to a heart-rending poem from a young Pakistani activist about the devastating floods in her country, that brought former President of Ireland and climate justice campaigner, Mary Robinson, to tears.
So it is small comfort to know that, as the Washington Post writes, at the end of it all: “A committee (will) design a new fund that vulnerable countries can draw on after a disaster.” And no comfort when we read on: “The crucial question of which countries must provide financing and which will be eligible to benefit from it has been left for future negotiations.” (Our italics).
No action was agreed to extend the COP26 commitment to phase down coal to cover other fossil fuels (oil, gas). Nor to change the language back to “phase out” as originally intended.
Shining a light in the darkness
However, throughout the fortnight of negotiations, press conferences, presentations and scientific lectures, faith-based organisations were a powerful presence.
Among them, the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKs) team offered a message of quiet resolution and hope, shining a light where it was so much needed, at some 30 events.
Visitors to the BK Exhibition in the UN Blue Zone expressed interest in the breadth of work on display, including in the field of renewables. At other sessions, officials and negotiators took comfort and inspiration from meditation practice or from simply making a meaningful connection.
During a meditation session in the Cryosphere Pavilion, leader of the BK delegation Maureen Goodman said deep inner reflection leads us to make a contribution, in spite of the difficulties.
“We need inner spiritual nourishment more than ever”, she added.
With a thoughtful approach of acceptance, understanding and compassion we can face reality, discern what has brought us to where we are, and identify ways to improve and uplift ourselves and others, bringing a different vibration to the Earth.
Integrative scientist, Prof. Mark Lawrence of the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies in Germany, emphasised strengthening our own resilience – physical, mental and emotional – and supporting the Earth, to make a world that is “liveable and wonderful.”
Introspection and meditation are part of this, he said, with regular pauses to regroup by meditating. Whatever you choose, do it with a light touch, accepting your limitations: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Young people break new ground
Among the constituencies represented in Sharm el-Sheikh, young people stepped forward with their energy, commitment and eloquence. Unafraid to speak their mind, they called for greater inclusion at the table and a chance to be heard – not patronised.
This was the first time to have a Children’s and Youth Pavilion at a COP meeting, and Britain’s Financial Times noted the exceptional “buzz” felt at the venue.
One speaker at an interfaith panel discussion for youth (another first), put the case for climate action succinctly: People tell me this is about your future. But it’s not about my future. “This is my now!”
BK Shantanu Mandal from India highlighted projects from the field: Kalp Taruh, – “one person, one plant, for one planet” – and regenerative agriculture in the vast, arid Kutch district in Gujarat state.
This is not just about tree planting, he said of the first, but also about our values, with planting, tending the sapling, and using technology – a mobile app – to educate people how to care for the plant.
In Kutch, the aim is to assist a rural population, much reduced by internal migration owing to the harshness of the conditions, to transform wasteland into greenery.
“Whatever your climate action is, keep doing it with heart – that’s the message I want to share… (so) the action becomes powerful and sustainable.”
It was a memorable panel, with important contributions from youth drawn from across continents and faith/spiritual traditions, ending with a touching moment of reflection, as each person held a light, led by Shantanu.
A fitting shaft of light and hope in an otherwise sombre Conference.