COP15 – Religion, the Arctic, Climate Justice
COP15 has clearly moved into a new stage. On Saturday, authorities announced that they would limit the number of entries per NGO – new passes, of which only a limited number have been made available, are needed. The reason is, of course, security: ministers and heads of state have started arriving in Copenhagen. And there are a lot of people accredited to COP15 – parties, of course, but also an unprecedented number of press and members of NGO. But the measure is highly unusual in the context of UN organized meetings and some protest has already been voiced.
This morning, people were queuing up in large numbers at the entrance of the Bella Center, already accredited people and people looking for accreditation – many people have shown up for COP15’s second week, overwhelmingly many. Fortunately, accredited people as José Ignacio and myself, could enter quite easily. We went first to a side-event organized by Caritas Internationalis and the World Council of Churches (WCC): “To Renew the Face of the Earth: Climate Justice from a Faith Perspective”. There was first an encouraging talk by Joy Kennedy, a member of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change. Followed an intervention by Rev. Fr. Erny Gillen, President of Caritas Europa and Vice-President of Caritas Internationalis. Tofiga Falani, the President of the Congregational Christian Church in Tuvalu, spoke moving words about the situation of his fellow-citizens. This side event made it abundantly clear that religion has a role to play in the climate change crisis, and that this role complements the work of scientists, economists and politicians by emphasizing the spiritual-theological and moral aspects of people involved in the crisis. It became also clear that there still is a lot of work to do for theologians and specialists in spirituality. Archbishop Rowan William’s sermon yesterday gave an excellent example of how these issues can be addressed, empowering people and at the same time challenging leadership.
Al Gore and Nordic ministers offered a side event on “Greenland Ice Sheet – Melting Snow and Ice: Calls for Action”, which I very much wanted to attend, but the room was overfilled and I was not allowed in (a press conference illustrated the issues). Polar ice is melting much faster than has been expected, rendering North Pole summers ice free in about 10 years. This will result in powerful climate feedbacks affecting continents and people far beyond the Arctic itself. It will also result in the Arctic becoming one of the most strategic areas of the globe. The side events here at COP15 have made it clearer to me, that many of the complexities of worldwide climate change are still insufficiently explored. The effects on and of ocean warming and acidification as well as on and of polar ice melting are high on the scientific agenda.
In a conference later on the day, Seán McDonagh reminded me of the importance of climate restitution: rich countries may not having been aware of their actions on global climate, but these actions resulted in harm, that calls for restitution. It is as if unwillingly and unknowingly we would poison our neighbor’s house. Christians would have to recognize the damage their actions have done and they would feel called to do restitution, to repair the damage done. This climate justice and reparation is at stake in the COP15 talks: legally binding agreements would secure this justice both for mitigation and adaptation. African countries today made it very clear that they call for a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, so as to safeguard at least the existing legally binding agreements (see also John Vidal’s reporting on The Guardian website). Some of the developed countries and some of the richer developing countries seem to want to undo the KP, including it in one track with the Convention (UNFCCC), which, unfortunately, does not contain such legally binding features.