COP26 was always going to be difficult – but there were inspiring signs of change

FaithInvest CEO Martin Palmer explains why there were grounds for optimism at the UN Climate Conference


Around 100,000 people – including many from faith communities – marched in Glasgow on the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice
Martin Palmer

COP26 was always going to be difficult. For those wanting it to be the answer to all our problems, it was going to be a failure. For those expecting an apocalypse, it was going to be a disappointment! What we ended with was actually two separate events with very different energies, aspirations and commitments.


The formal Governmental, UN-managed one – the COP system itself – is basically designed not to work because as a former UN Assistant Secretary General has said of these Government/UN meetings, the nation states come trying to ensure they do as little as possible but want to be seen to be trying. That was very much what happened at Glasgow.


The other event at Glasgow was a sign of change. And that was the huge civil society programme. There were, of course, the marches – like the 100,000-strong Global Day of Action of Climate Change, shown above and (featuring a giant, blow up Laudato Si' globe) below – and the petitions, a vital part of democracy. But more important were the new working partnerships that were being created, strengthened or discovered during the COP.


This time, the faiths featured as major players at all sorts of levels – not just as finger-wagging outsiders but as vital components of civil society committed to make the changes necessary within themselves. This ranged from their investments, through education, to media and on to structural commitments to change themselves.


And we found partners from every sector of civil society – business; NGOs on every topic under the sun; investors; media; education; the unions and artists.


A manifestation of this was the New York Times Climate Hub – not a formal part of the COP's official Blue Zone for national delegations or Green Zone for accredited civil society representatives – which drew thousands to discuss how to make things happen, given the lethargy of the nation states.

The Laudato Si' – Faithful Action event at the New York Times Climate Hub

Our event at the Climate Hub, entitled Laudato Si' – Faithful Action – was a joy. FaithInvest's Lorna Gold and I were part of a panel that included Fr Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, the Vatican's Ecology Sector Coordinator, teenage climate activist Ridhima Pandey and film maker Nicolas Brown. We discussed (and watched clips) from Nicolas's forthcoming Laudato Si' documentary, due to be launched in April 2022 and in which Radhima, Lorna and I appear.


'This was one of the most organic and authentic discussions I've had the pleasure of listening to!'

Afterwards, someone emailed me: 'Having spoken to multiple partners, guests and the team at NYT, I'm happy to share that it was one of the most attended events in the Forum space over the course of the 10 days. The 10 days have been peppered with big corporate panels trying to land key messages - and this was one of the most organic and authentic discussions I've had the pleasure of listening to!'


I, for one came away excited at the new partnerships that both FaithInvest and our Faith Plans programme had made; at the energy and resourcefulness of the many, many faith groups at Glasgow ready to be the agents of change rather than waiting for change.


I was moved by the desire of business and of education to take up the challenge to change as well and saw, albeit briefly, the role the Arts can play. As that same Assistant Secretary General of the UN said: 'With the faiths, it is a question of how much more can we do.' So different from the Governments.


And on that commitment perhaps lies the real hope for the future.

 

Read our look back at COP26, with highlights of what emerged – and what did not