Travelling on a Train Stimulates Thought
For various reasons, I had decided to return today to Leuven – by train, a 12 hour affair, which gave me ample time to reflect on the past days in Copenhagen and at the Bella Center. I started by feeling frustrated for having to leave at an interesting moment of the conference: not much has been reached up to now and I am left wondering whether the goals of the talks – reaching two track agreements (Kyoto and UNFCCC) on issues as mitigation, the financing of adaptation and the transfer of technology – are not themselves far below what could be expected in an urgent situation as we face today. I can only hope that in the coming two days, the presence of so many heads of state will allow for some real worldwide leadership and for some strong decisions. I felt also frustrated by the fact that from tomorrow on even more NGO-members, representing the public forum, will be excluded from the Bella Center. I can sympathize with the reasons for this, but it is really bad show, as the presence of critical and stimulating is a creative part of UN meetings as COP.
I did not only feel frustration; gratefully, I also overviewed some of the lessons learnt at COP15. I offer them in no particular order for further reflection and reactions …
(1) – We are facing an urgent and very serious worldwide challenge: the scientists keep reminding us of that and the expression “we are committed to …” that they like to use, indicates that we have to factor in for the near future some very threatening consequences of global climate change, consequences both for human beings and for the planet as a whole. In fifty years from now, the planet will look differently and human beings will live differently.
(2) – Our best available science (BAS) keeps evolving and deepening its insight in the crisis: IPCC V will involve more complexity (e.g. the role of the oceans) and will take more account of the social implications of what is happening. I think that heads of state and world leaders will also increasingly pay attention to the security aspects of global climate change. I feel, for myself, that science has to move to a higher “level,” i.e. finding a way to see the whole and not only analyze its parts as individual bits and pieces: the issue is not only to acquire more precisions on various aspects of the crisis, it is also to find a way to look at the crisis as a whole.
(3) – There is still a lot of skepticism around and – as illustrated by the hacking of the personal e-mails of scientists – the media seem to focus on these issues. In my personal opinion, this is irresponsible, although it takes account of the fact that skeptics exercise a real political influence that is felt at COP15.
(4) – The fact that the Bella Center is overrun by NGOs is a good and comforting sign: many people and organizations – particularly grassroot organizations – have grasped the importance and the significance of the global climate change crisis. And these people are active, they do not give in to despair, they challenge their politicians and they propose alternative life styles and alternative politics. The voice of these people is crucial and, therefore, it is really regrettable that decisions are being taken to limit their access to the Bella Center.
(5) – At a political level, the most important challenge seems to me to be to move out of the framework defined by “I represent my own country or nation”. Where are the politicians who represent worldwide humanity? Where are the politicians who voice the concerns of nature, of disappearing species of plants and animals, of the forests, of the oceans, etc.? Nation-voices are not helpful if they are not embedded in the deep concern for human beings worldwide and for the planet as a whole.
(6) – The worldwide environmental crisis is a social crisis, a crisis of human life on the planet earth, and of justice. The crisis is about people who suffer and give voice to what is happening. It is about the contrast between rich and poor, between those who are responsible for the human impact on climate change and those who most suffer its consequences. Over and over again, at the Bella Center, the poor and suffering people are given a voice, and attention is paid to issues of young people, of migrants, of gender and of indigenous people. Justice is not about the poor and excluded people being better human beings for their poverty and exclusion; it is about the willingness to let their experiences shed light on what is happening, because in them the struggle for life and hope is especially strong and revealing. They remind us that all of us have a responsibility for the dignity and well being of all, particularly of the most forgotten. Their voices may also help all of us to listen to the voices of nature and of the planet, as is illustrated by the strong advocacy for forests and biodiversity from the side of indigenous people. Theologians would point out that here we see the option for the poor at work. This is a crisis about human dignity and about creational dignity.
(7) – Because issues of justice are at stake, COP15 is also about reconciliation WITH reparations – Climate Justice is an important idea and it should inform the discussions about financing mitigation and adaptation. How are we going to find an new equilibrium of equity and justice between developed, emerging and developing countries and people? I feel it as a desolation that at COP15, negotiators seem to think only in strict economical terms and to understand the goal of development as the style of life of the rich countries. Is there no need for a deeper reflection on words as growth and development? The “vision text” seems very crucial from this perspective.
(8) – There remains an important issue of how the place of human beings on this planet has to be understood. Obviously, the climate change crisis is about human beings: they are to a large extent responsible for it, they suffer from the crisis, and the fate of human beings is a core concern of us and of COP15. But, there is more at stake: the crisis is also about the planet and about the relationships between human beings and the planet. Evolution theory may help us out here, to show both human embeddedness in nature, as well as the importance of human beings in nature that has given itself new possibilities and perspectives in human beings.
(9) – There is an important role for religions, although they were but little present at COP15, i.e. in the Bella Center and amidst the negotiations. There have been, of course, some remarkable religious events outside of the Bella Center, and I think especially of Rowan Williams’ sermon in Copenhagen’s cathedral. Religions touch the capacity to face truth and reality (particularly when it has become difficult to face these, as is the case with global climate change), they are spaces for visions and hope, they are intimately connected to cosmologies and worldviews and, therefore, also to nature itself, they use methodologies of discernment that are more holistic than scientific, economic, military, etc. perspectives, they pay attention to the voices of broken people and broken creatures, they can mobilize and motivate people. There is a great need for these religious voices, also amongst politicians and leaders who are facing the current challenges. Leadership at this level and at this moment requires a worldwide perspective and a strong rootedness in constructive and pro-active values.
(10) – I also come home with ideas about the role of the Jesuits and the Ignatian Family. They have a worldwide presence, a universal scope and reach at many levels that they can efficiently interconnect: presence in the field, academic research in universities, the capacity to build local and international institutions (as the Jesuit Refugee Service), possibilities to advocate at political level and in political institutions, a spirituality in which common apostolic discernment plays an important role, influence in the media of communication, etc. To have received these capacities is at this moment of history a very precious gift and puts the Ignatian Family and the Jesuits at a “kairos” in which they can commit wholeheartedly and, in doing so, rediscover who they are.