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The Developing Nations at COP27 and the Syrophoenician Woman

The Bible can help us understand contemporary events in new ways.  The story of the Syrophoenician woman who argues with Jesus about healing her daughter helpfully sheds light on a very important event that occurred at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 27, held in Egypt in November of this year. 

The biblical story starts with Jesus going to the region of Tyre. He entered a house, but didn’t want anyone to know he was there.  A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard that he was there, and she went to that same house and bowed down at his feet. She was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. (Mark 7:24-30)

She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “Go home and you will find that the demon has left your daughter.” So, she went home to find that the demon was gone.

When I read that story, I am impressed by several facts:
  • The woman was a foreigner – of Syrophoenician heritage. Yet she was able to find the house and push her way to Jesus. It took courage for her to walk into a strange house and make demands of Jesus.
  • Jesus at first said no because she was a foreigner. Rejection didn’t stop her, she tried again and said, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She compared herself to a dog, but argued that even the dogs have the right to participate in the blessings that Jesus provides. She was not afraid to argue with Jesus – a foreign woman (not a man) arguing with Jesus and convincing him that the right thing to do was to heal her daughter which he, at first, did not want to do.
  • The scripture says that Jesus saw her faith and changed his mind because of her answer and healed her daughter. 

For more than three decades, developing nations at the UN meetings on climate change have pressed for “loss and damage” money, asking rich industrialized countries to provide compensation for the costs of destructive storms, heat waves and droughts fueled by global warming.

But the United States and other wealthy countries had blocked the idea for fear that they could be held legally liable for the greenhouse gas emissions though the Paris Agreement said that they were not liable.  

At the Climate Change Conference in Egypt, I had a front-row seat to the negotiation of this matter. 134 nations argued vigorously that they cannot afford to fix all of the damage that climate change caused. They said that they didn’t cause the climate crisis and they shouldn’t be responsible for paying the damage resulting from it.  

The announcement that a loss and danger fund will be created offers hope to vulnerable communities all over the world

The debate was contentious, but the US, the UK, the EU, Canada and other nations changed their minds and agreed to establish a loss and damage fund that would help poor, vulnerable countries deal with climate disasters.

What comes next matters; The agreement says nations cannot be held legally liable for payments. It calls for a committee with representatives from 24 countries to work over the next year to figure out exactly what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute and where the money should go.

Developing nations made it clear that if this summit, held on the African continent, did not address loss and damage it would be seen as a moral failure. “The announcement that a loss and danger fund will be created offers hope to vulnerable communities all over the world,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change. 

Rejected at previous meetings the developing nations continued to make their case for support. 

Pakistan, which led a group of 134 developing nations in pushing for loss and damage payments, provided a fresh reminder of the destructive forces of climate change. Over the summer, devastating flooding in Pakistan resulted in more than 1,500 deaths, plunging one-third of the country underwater and causing $30 billion in damages.

There is also no guarantee that wealthy countries will deposit money into the fund. While American diplomats agreed to a fund, the money must be appropriated by Congress. With Republicans, who largely oppose climate aid, set to take over leadership in the House in January, the prospects of Congress approving an entirely new pot of money for loss and damage appear dim.

I see learnings from  the Syrophoenician woman’s story. The developing nations of the world, raised their voices about their needs and advocated for a moral solution. Rejected at previous meetings the developing nations continued to make their case for support.  And the developed world caught the vision of that moral solution and did the right thing.  Now it is my hope that we may act with the same commitment to justice that Jesus had.

Photo Credit: Allen Drew and other Climate Witness Project CCOP participants.

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