History, and taking the long view, was woven into the fabric of the opening session of the COP27 meeting, Monday 7th November, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
From ancient history to the present to disturbing visions of the future, presentations outlined how even sophisticated, well-governed states have historically not coped with dramatic shifts in climate. Egyptians have an extraordinary record on which to draw, and, as this conference, held within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is hosted by a nation that is also African, Egyptian leaders and academics spoke up clearly on behalf of communities most at risk from the effects of global heating.
There were many reminders during the opening session, notably from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, that: we have a choice.
So, at this “Implementation COP”, what is on the table? First, the urgent need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases – which are actually rising – to keep global heating within a limit set at not more than 2C by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Then, inclusion of loss and damage finance on the agenda: The good news is, this has happened. Note, however, that developed nations eschew the word “compensation”, so implementing it will not be easy.
Third, provision of grants and technical know-how to assist developing countries in fast forwarding to low-carbon, green economies. It is worth remembering that 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity, yet.
Developing this theme, Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, criticised international financial institutions – as did others – and declared them no longer fit for purpose. Where there is a will to modernise sustainably, developing countries find there is no way: They cannot obtain affordable financing.
Staying true to our beliefs
So can the voices of civil society guide us to feel hopeful, as one more UN conference on the climate emergency opens?
Civil society organisations at Sharm represent constituencies including faith and spiritual traditions, the young, climate activists, and others.
The Brahma Kumaris delegation embraces many of these sectors and is predominantly, though not exclusively, female. This is another sign of a shift in the atmosphere: Women, indigenous people, youth, all fearlessly taking a lead.
At Sunday’s gathering in the spirit of a Talanoa Dialogue, organised by the Interfaith Liaison Committee and held at el-Sama Eyeen Coptic Church, panellist and leader of the BK delegation, Maureen Goodman, highlighted the interconnection between our consciousness as human beings and the environment. There is a confluence between the two living systems of thought and of the natural world, each one impacting the other.
We have forgotten how to live in a non-violent way, in harmony with Nature, she said. Moving from dominance and exploitation towards stewardship and respect would transform the situation. This profound shift in consciousness would bring us to a “very different place”, with decisions made to the benefit of humanity and the Earth.
“There has to be a ‘tipping point’ of consciousness where things can begin to flourish,” she explained, and we must do this together.
Other panellist spoke on climate finance, loss and damage from an African perspective, and the irreparable harm done to indigenous peoples in the colonial era.
Break-out groups present at the meeting and online discussed related themes, and their findings will comprise the Interfaith Call from the Talanoa Dialogue to be delivered to the UNFCCC secretariat on 15th November.
Young people making a difference
At a press conference by young people of faith, BK Piyush Ahuja (Dubai) also focused on the power of the individual to effect change, and to work collectively with others to bring it about.
Citing the BK youth “One Change Initiative” in the UAE, he showed how it is possible to move away from overconsumption of plastics towards a more mindful use of resources, one step at a time.
He cited a BK theme: “When I change, the world changes.”
Over the coming days, we will watch with interest to see if summit leaders take the message on board…..