SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — As the latest U.N. climate change summit began, some faith and civil organizations had a long wish list of what they hoped it would achieve.
Tangible action plans to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transform energy systems to renewable sources, embrace agro-ecology, and provide funding to developing countries for both climate adaptation and “loss and damage,” which refers to unavoidable or already occurring climate impacts, top their lists for delegates at COP27 — shorthand for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference was meeting Nov. 6–18.
Ari Shaw-Obasogie, a senior policy and legislative specialist with the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, said the church has a critical role to play during the summit: to ensure participants hear the voices of the people they serve who are directly affected by climate change and that the perspectives of those affected are included in major decision-making.
“The role of the Catholic Relief Services at COP27 is to bring the local perspective into the convening,” she told EarthBeat, the environmental publication of National Catholic Reporter. “The church should be the lead, and we have a role model, Pope Francis, who is at the forefront in addressing this.”
Shaw-Obasogie noted that the world’s wealthiest individuals, mainly in the Global North, are primarily responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions that are heating the planet, while people most affected by the emissions are those living in the Global South. The World Inequality Database reported last December that the richest 10% of the population produces roughly half of global emissions.
She said CRS and others will be pushing these wealthy nations and individuals during the summit to compensate people for the losses and damage that climate change has already exacerbated.
Madagascar, for example, was hit with five severe weather events — cyclones and tropical storms — from January to March this year. Those storms devastated communities, Shaw-Obasogie said. People in Africa feel they need to be compensated, since some of these weather-related disasters are caused by activities happening in other countries and by foreign-owned companies.
Father Paul Igweta of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, or AMECEA, said religious leaders expect serious commitments and willingness from governments at COP27 to tackle climate change. One demand they will raise is implementation of the Green Climate Fund to support the climate mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries. So far, developed nations have fallen short of their pledges to provide the fund $100 billion annually beginning in 2020.
Father Igweta told EarthBeat that all previous agreements on climate change must be fully implemented. He said governments worldwide have pledged to slow global warming through the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement but have failed to work together for the betterment of their people.
GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental coalition, called for accelerated financial commitments toward universal access to renewable energy and an immediate end to new fossil fuel projects in Africa.
In a statement Oct. 27, GreenFaith called on African governments to reject overtures from extractive industries for new coal, oil and gas projects. It also voiced support for The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, an initiative endorsed by 70 cities, including Kolkata, Los Angeles and London; 101 Nobel laureates; 3,000 scientists; 1,750 civil society organizations; and 500 legislators from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. The initiative calls for an immediate end to new fossil fuel projects, an equitable phaseout of existing coal, oil and gas production and a generous commitment to a just transition for climate-impacted countries, communities and workers.
“Fossil fuel projects displace countless poor families, pollute our air and water, and destroy our biodiversity and social fabric, while entrenching corruption and enriching local and Northern elites,” said Meryne Warah, GreenFaith’s global organizing co-director. “None of this reflects our religious values.”
“As we go to COP27, we are calling for climate justice. We are calling on those responsible for climate injustice to pay for the harm they have caused. This is a matter of life and death,” added Tinashe Gumbo, a Zimbabwean who is the program executive of the Ecological and Economic Justice unit of the All Africa Conference of Churches.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, an organization working to promote food sovereignty and agro-ecology in Africa, also appealed to COP27 to prioritize agro-ecology, which the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization describes as the “science of applying ecological concepts and principles to manage interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment for food security and nutrition.”
Million Belay, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s general coordinator, said: “Ignoring agro-ecology is ignoring Africa’s farmers and sidelining the planet’s most vulnerable people, who are being hit first and worst by the climate crisis. Africa could feed itself many times over. But agro-ecology cannot and must not be overlooked by decision-makers as the most effective means to build resilience and enable small-scale farmers, pastoralists and fishers to adapt to climate change.”
Meanwhile, some African faith and civil society groups believe the summit can address climate justice if the diplomats and negotiators at COP27 recognize and prioritize African climate concerns.
“I think that this time round, things will be different, because countries in Africa are united to raise their voices on climate change,” said Father Igweta, who is attending the summit. “Africa is among the continents most affected by climate change, and since the COP27 is coming to our continent, we will make sure things affecting us are addressed.”
Ajiambo is the Africa/Middle East correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Kenya.