From Cardiff to COP26 and back

‘Rise to the Moment’ Pilgrim Boat

Eileen Newington, Synod Green Advocate, reflects on the campaign to tackle climate change at COP26.

I remember travelling with others from Beulah URC to a Christmassy London in 2009 to join with thousands demanding climate justice before the Copenhagen summit.

I remember being touched as the Greenpeace polar bear and the World Wildlife panda hugged on the steps of the Senedd as we stood in the wind and rain once more demanding climate justice before the Paris summit in 2015.

To be part of the Pilgrims Procession on the eve of COP 26 was something even more special. Pilgrims of faith – and no faith – had been welcomed to Glasgow and pilgrimages from within the UK and across Europe gathered on Glasgow Green. The Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) completed their 1,200 mile relay from the G7 meeting in Cornwall that morning, arriving just in time to join the procession.

The march was colourful and noisy, rainbows formed and the samba band played, but the moment of true impact came as we stood in silence among the shoppers in Buchanan Street. This moment of sorrow, challenge and hope seemed to encapsulate and anticipate Sir David Attenborough’s impassioned plea that COP 26 turn “tragedy into a triumph.”

For two weeks campaigners and activists pressed hard for action to limit temperature rises to 1.5C and to secure the money communities need to respond, adapt and be compensated for the impacts of climate change. Prayers and hopes for climate justice, captured and carried on prayer boats, were displayed to decision makers and faith movements from around the world presented their demands for climate justice to delegates and leaders.

Ultimately, the Glasgow Climate Pact left much to do to make climate justice a reality and the nations of the global south must look now to COP 27 in Africa to hope that their voices will be properly heard. But I saw on the trains from Edinburgh and on the streets of Glasgow, passion and youth and international connections and determination. The same belief in possibilities as described by Amanda Mukwashi, the CEO of Christian Aid, when she said, “ People of faith have united with activists from the Global South, feminists, youth and indigenous people to demand climate justice. Our movement has never been stronger and this must be the legacy of Glasgow to keep hope alive.”

I returned to Cardiff in time for the Global Day of Action on 6th November. We gathered as a group from the Cardiff and Penarth Pastorate to take part together and were grateful to the folk in City URC for providing coffee. At a prayer meeting in Eglwys Dewi Sant in the city centre organised by Christian Aid, Tearfund and CAFOD we then met as a ‘faith bloc’ with many others from churches across Cardiff before joining the main march from the City Hall to the Senedd. One of our members had made a banner for the occasion and we had Christian Aid and Tearfund placards to carry through the streets. It felt good to know that we were walking in solidarity with the 150,000 who were marching in Glasgow and that we were part of a global cry for climate justice.

The YCCN walkers had carried their Rise to the Moment Pilgrim Boat all the way from Cornwall and for the duration of the summit it rested in St. George’s Tron. At the heart of the sail was the flag carried by the Welsh walkers from Swansea to Bristol which bore the words of St. David, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain” – “Do the little things”.

In Glasgow I had picked up a copy of Life and Work, the Church of Scotland’s magazine, and on the front page was an introduction to COP 26 written by Revd David Coleman who is Eco-Congregation Scotland’s environmental chaplain. He wrote, “We will not, by small actions,  ‘fix’ the world. Climate crisis is not one of those short-term issues, but the context in which we now live. And yet prayer itself is a transformative small action, placed in God’s hands alongside our efforts to approach net zero, and model a better, more caring way of life. We look to our faith as a resource for the resilience we will need for the years ahead. In our responses, visible to the communities in which we live and work, churches can come into their own as beacons of hope, joy, forgiveness, and Good News to every creature (Mark 16:15). And we need to use this God-given opportunity to be different when COP has come and gone”.