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After COP26, We Need Radical Faith, Hope, and Love

The UN Climate Conference, COP26, ended late last Saturday after extended negotiations. For many around the world—including me, as I streamed the anticlimactic closing plenary from an Edinburgh pub—its conclusion was disappointing. 

Indeed, COP26 and its cover decision, the “Glasgow Climate Pact” fell well short of the transformative action many hoped to see from this summit, whose main objective was to keep the 1.5°C limit of warming in reach—and with it, to prevent some the most catastrophic climate impacts on human lives and the rest of the living world.

Yes, there were positive results from the two-week conference. It was an achievement of diplomacy; activists achieved significant wins. And yet, it was not ultimately enough. Such is climate politics: in the face of a global challenge requiring speed, scale, and cooperation, a conference like COP26 could be both historic and insufficient. We needed more—especially for our siblings who are suffering unjust climate impacts already. 

If you’ve read this far, you likely understand the stakes and like me are wondering: what now? 

After being in Glasgow to witness the conference as a Christian climate observer, here are a few proposals on what COP26 could mean next for Christians and our communities: 

1. It’s up to all of us.

Before I traveled to Glasgow, I admit that I allowed myself to harbor hope against hope that COP26 just might be transformative. That it might be inclusive and fair. That the activists’ and vulnerable countries’ power would override industries’ and wealthy nations’. That political leaders would act with appropriate urgency. 

This largely did not happen. Before COP26, the world was predicted to experience 2.7°C of warming; after its pledges were tallied, we are still on course for 2.4°C

This is what Indigenous and Global South leaders have warned all along, including many who overcame tremendous obstacles to be at COP26 and lead actions and marches: international diplomacy alone will not ensure climate justice. It was always going to require advocates pushing for change on the ground. After this COP, it seems clearer that keeping 1.5°C alive in a just way has to come from ordinary people putting pressure on local, subnational, and national governments to do their part. 

And that includes all of us. 

As Christians, we can be part of crossing social tipping points to protect human lives. This could mean joining local and national advocacy campaigns, contacting your local officials, and supporting the work of frontline advocates. (See the Climate Witness Project’s resources for advocacy to help you urge your elected leaders to increase their ambition and be accountable to the most vulnerable people rather than polluting industries.) 

The threat posed by an overheating planet may result in the largest social movement in history. Will we as Christians be part of it, or will we remain on the sidelines?

2. Action matters most.

We heard impressive pledges come out of COP26. Pledges help shape ambition and practice, but they don’t make a difference to our overheating atmosphere unless emissions actually begin to drop, and rapidly. 

To stay below 1.5°C of warming to prevent the most catastrophic of impacts, science shows we need to reduce global emissions by around 7% every year until 2030. This will not happen by individual reduction, but through collective action that leads our economies to quickly transition from burning fossil fuels for energy. How can we raise ambition for energy transformation? 

Beyond advocacy, churches can witness to their communities through stewarding their energy and transitioning to renewable energy. They can also choose how and where to invest their money for a regenerative future. Communities of all sizes can help do their part. 

3. “Open your hearts”

At the beginning of COP26, Kenyan youth climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti asked the delegates to connect their actions to their hearts: “Your will to act must come from deep within...Please open your hearts and then act.” 

This is a word for all of us. But it is not easy to practice. When facing the enormity and scariness of the climate crisis, self-protection is understandable (especially when it isn’t the only threat we face). I know personally how easy it is to be overwhelmed and worried and to allow this to lead to disconnection and dissociation. 

But disconnection and dissociation are at the very root of the climate crisis: colonialism, which severs people’s connection to the living world and to one another. We need a better way forward. 

Wathuti reminded me that to faithfully respond to the climate crisis, we must reconnect our heads with our hearts, and our lives with others’ lives who are in danger. We must hear the stories of those affected and let their plights be our own—because they are. 

One of my most poignant moments at COP26 came from my fellow Christian climate observer, Marinel. At dinner on the eve of the eight-year anniversary of Super-Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated her island in the Philippines and pushed her into climate activism as a young teen, Marinel stood up and addressed her fellow observers (mostly from high-emitting countries like the U.S. and Canada). 

Marinel reminded us that we all share an atmosphere and so our actions affect one another. She gave us a message to take back to our people: “​​Anything you do for the climate and the environment,” she said “you are doing for those of us in frontline communities.”

4. We need faith, hope, and love.

At COP26, I saw people from many tribes, tongues, and nations who were there against the odds, who refused to be silent, back down, or yield to despair or powerlessness. Whether singing or marching in the official UN Blue Zone, or rallying in the streets, or gathering offsite to strategize and support one another, people were practicing a fierce commitment to one another and a shared future where life can flourish. 

They were embodying what I pray the church can also embody. 

As Christians, we depend on a God who can make a way out of no way—as Black church traditions have long testified. And yet a belief in God’s power need not result in fatalism; it hasn’t stopped these traditions from sustained social engagement. 

Our worship can form us to live out this kind of faithful both-and. Many of us in comfortable life and church settings haven’t had to practice this kind of faith; I know I sure haven’t. But the climate crisis is already challenging us to live out our beliefs more fully. And this can be a powerful witness to wider society. 

I am reminded of what Christian activist Vanessa Nakate said to the crowds in Glasgow. She spoke of the need to engage the climate crisis with faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 

Faith, hope, and love are gifts given by God and cultivated in community. They can sound pious and abstract, but in times like these, they are active and even world-changing in practice. As we discern our roles in responding to the climate crisis after COP26, one open question could be: what actions express radical faith, hope, and love? 

So much depends on us living the answers. With God’s help. 

Watch some highlights from Nate's experiences at COP26!

Photos provided by the author.  Nate and Didier Nshimirimana from Burundi were the two CRCNA badgeholders during [the second week of] COP26.

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