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COP27: Sharm El-Sheikh

This past week, I had the privilege of attending COP27 (the UNFCCC’s annual climate change conference) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.  The opportunity arose when I was accepted to the Christian Climate Observers Program, or CCOP.  The program is amazing, the team was both international and incredible, and I am immensely grateful to our two leaders and program founders, Lowell Bliss and Brian Webb.

Attending COP27 was like trying to drink from a firehose.  40,000 people came to Sharm El-Sheikh, representing businesses, banks, civil society organizations, non-profits, and the official delegations of 197 nations.  Over the course of two weeks, hundreds of pavilions were set up around the COP UN zone (or “blue zone”), and each day was jam packed with presentations and panel discussions, outdoor demonstrations, plenary sessions, and the ongoing behind the scenes deliberations of thousands of diplomats.  My team and I participated in the COP as official UN civil society observers, and our role was to hold the negotiations accountable to the broader public.

During the week I was there, which was the second of the two weeks, the loudest voice I heard on the COP grounds was one calling for the establishment of a Loss and Damage (L&D) Fund.  One of the great global injustices of climate change is that the developed nations of the world are overwhelmingly responsible for the carbon emissions that are driving the climate crisis, yet the nations hardest hit by the impacts are developing nations who have contributed the least emissions.  Two of my colleagues on the CCOP team, Doreen Njoki and Anthoy Kamau, shared with me how climate change is impacting their home country of Kenya.  In northern Kenya, they have had 4 years of drought in a row, have 3.5 million people on the brink of starvation, and have lost over 200 elephants in this year alone.  During one of our morning sessions, Doreen shared with us 3 wrenching stories.  In one, sea level rise forced two young girls to leave their community, which led them to be raped and impregnated in the place they had to stay.   In another, a young man was forced to migrate with his community due to drought, and while traveling was killed by bandits.  In the third, a beloved elephant died of starvation.

Stories from our friends on the ground remind our guts that each one of those 3.5 million is a person with a name, a story, a family, and relationship.

This is just Kenya.  The numbers of people who are suffering globally as a direct result of climate change impacts is far greater.  And while numbers like 3.5 million can become abstract in their sheer enormity, stories from our friends on the ground remind our guts that each one of those 3.5 million is a person with a name, a story, a family, and relationships – someone dear to God.  Someone Jesus weeps over.

There is a massive need for international funds to care for the suffering that is currently happening around the world because of increasingly unstable global climate patterns.  This is why there was such a huge outcry by developing nations, civil society, and NGOs to establish a fund to meet these needs. 

By God’s grace, and through the extremely hard work and long hours of the negotiators, a Loss and Damage Fund was agreed upon.  An international transition team will work over the course of the next year to operationalize the fund, with the goal of approving it at COP28.  This was a big win for civil society, and particularly for the nations hardest hit by the climate crisis.

However, with the massive focus on Loss and Damage, two other crucial aspects of the global climate response stagnated – mitigation (the reduction of the global emissions that are causing the climate crisis) and adaptation (the changing of societies to be able to live in a different world).  No increase in emissions cuts over last year’s COP26 in Glasgow was agreed upon, despite the fact that current commitments take the world to 2.4C, well above the 1.5C the IPCC has said the world must stay under to avoid the worst impacts of climate disaster.  And no solid forward motion was made on funding adaptation efforts.

And so COP27 had mixed results.  The loss and damage fund was a big win – one truly worth celebrating.  But without significant improvement on the global transition away from fossil fuels, and without significantly more funding for adaptation efforts around the world, the loss and damage costs will continue to balloon. 

So what can we do?

One of the challenges I was processing with fellow teammates was how to meaningfully bridge the global life-and-death intensity of COP27 and the day to day lives of people back in the states raising their kids, working their jobs, paying their bills, and serving in their communities.  For many Americans the climate crisis just feels too big and too indirect – it’s not something that is felt in the guts, and even if it is, it feels far too big to do anything about.  And so the result is often disconnection. 

Yet the reality is that the climate crisis is the most interconnected challenge our world has ever faced.  It is a global threat to human lives, to creation, to mothers and babies, to food and water, and to national and international stability.  We are all people with names, and families, and relationships, and we are all in this together.  And the good news is that while the crisis is overwhelmingly huge, we can take meaningful action in our lives to address it.  Here are a few things you can do:

1)    Talk about the climate crisis with your friends, families, communities, and churches.  According to Katherine Hayhoe (with whom our team had the privilege of spending an evening at the COP), this is the most important thing we can offer.  We have the technologies and we have the solutions – we just need to keep building societal will.

2)    Speak to your legislators about how important climate action is to you and vote for legislators who will be climate champions.   

3)    Reduce the amount of fossil fuel emissions that are burned to power your life (your carbon footprint) and divest your savings and retirement from fossil fuels.  Go to my resource page to learn more.

4)    Become a Climate Witness Partner and get in touch with your regional organizer to find out how you can get involved in your region.  If you’re anywhere on or near the east coast of the US, you can reach me at

5)    Sign on to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and see if you can get your church, a community group, or even your city to sign on.  

There is so much to do, and we need to do it all so rapidly – but as Christians, God has made us for such a time as this.  He has made us to care for creation, love our neighbors, lift up the poor, and welcome the refugee.  Climate action engages all of these callings at the same time – and more and more Christians are connecting the dots.  There is a movement growing in the church.  I invite you to join us.

Photo provided by the author of come CCOP participants getting their COP27 blue zone badges.

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