Monday, November 15, 2021

COP 26, Week Two, November 9-13 (Fred Milligan)

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.  - Frederick Douglass

 by Fred Milligan

PEC Representative at COP 26

Wall Art in Progress

The events of this COP26 have proven this in spades. 

The second week started out as more of the same kinds of events:

A program sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Church of Sweden (Lutheran Church) on their efforts to have the concept of “ecocide” or the destruction of species and eco-systems become codified in international law was explained in one event.

Another event focused on the intersection of human rights with the loss and damage related to climate change and the efforts to combat these.

We viewed  a video of a speaker from an Asian country who commenting on the efforts of multi-national companies to silence those attempting to protect their rights to clean land, air and water said: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” 

The woman representing the Quakers at the United Nations spoke about a document, long in the formation stage that will be coming before the U.N. General Assembly in the coming session establishing that environmental rights are human rights. 

A Young woman from Pacific islands expressed frustration and anger about the propensity of the developed world to try to find technological solutions to problems which local people already understand how to deal with. She described her culture’s practice of designating sectors of the ocean around their island as set aside for a certain period of time for replenishment.  Afterwards the area is re-opened for fishing with rituals and prayers that honor the intricate nature of the relationship they have with the sea creatures.

She said: “We’re sick of the talking, just bring on the action of phasing out fossil fuels. No more blah, blah, blah.”

A young Brazilian man said that greed is a great part of the problem. “It’s important for young activists to learn from older generations who lived when the skies were still blue.”

A Franciscan priest from the Philippines spoke about how November 8 was the anniversary of cyclone Hayan that killed 10,000 people in one night bringing the nation to its knees in grief and anguish.

A human rights approach to climate change mitigation

Is one that takes the power and money dynamics seriously


A Catholic sister from Srilanka spoke to the reality of climate anxiety and fear. 

There was an Ecumenical service of solidarity with Custodians of the Forest Organised by Christian Aid and held at the Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church, 13 Kelvinhaugh Street, Glasgow

It included first hand reports from people putting their lives at risk to stand in the way of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

The Preacher spoke on Romans 8 text about the creation being subjected to frustration through the abuse being inflicted upon it through all the extractive and exploitative processes of human efforts to dominate the land and those who attempt to protect it. The scripture speaks of how the earth is “waiting expectantly for the revealing of the children of God.” She then said: “If we need to be revealed, it may be that we are hiding for some reason? Why are we hiding? Is it because we have been neglecting our role as the tenders and keepers of creation? Her conclusion on Paul’s meaning in these verses for our day is that by freeing ourselves from the self-imposed bondage of hiding (as children of God, and care-takers of the earth) we will turn from our support of the status quo abuse and assist with liberate creation so that it may be healed and made whole along with humanity.

State Department Negotiating Team “Up-date” Meeting

On Wednesday, the draft agreement was released and I suddenly realized that I needed to find a way to connect with the U.S. negotiating team. I was particularly excited by the fact that this draft made the first mention since the Paris Agreement, calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels.

Then, as I was looking for a place to sit for lunch, I encountered a member of the U.S. sub-committee on finance. She was unable to commit to the kind of lobbying I had in mind, but gave me her email address and offered to pass along my emailed request for a meeting to the person in charge of “constituency relations”.

As it turned out, this was the same person who had been sending daily updates to Bill Somplasky-Jarman, who had already given me that person’s contact info. I received a quick response from him and filled out the contact form, which included a request for our “point of contact” who was Rebecca Barnes back in Louisville. 

First thing the following day, there was a note from Rebecca that I had been invited to join an “Up-date” micro-soft Teams call with the lead negotiator. It was not the one-on-one conversation I had hoped for but it was the closest I would come to making direct input into the negotiating team. 

I passed along the link to a few others and once on the call noted that it also included individuals still in the U.S. as well as some of us who were in Glasgow a total of 61 persons.

The moderator had invited a member of the U.S. department of transportation to the call and it was something of a “dog and pony” show about the carbon reducing and climate change focused elements of the just passed infrastructure legislation. But then the moderator did an overview of what is called the “Cover Decision” paper omitting any mention of the precedent setting line in the draft.

So, when the opportunity came for questions I posted my “raised hand” and then had to wait for a long time through what I considered mostly tedious minutae of rather technical responses to other questions before suddenly hearing my name called.

I expressed concern that the moderator had failed to mention the call to halt the use of fossil fuels in the draft of the cover decision document. The response was that the U.S. team was “not opposed” to anything in the paragraph on mitigation, including the line about fossil fuels and saw the current language as the “floor” which could be built upon for an even stronger statement.

However, his hesitance to single out the fossil fuel language led me along with Burkhard and Bill who were also listening in on the call, to feel that the U.S. was likely to also not be “opposed” to eliminating that reference.

(I have a complete notes of the meeting should anyone be interested in seeing these.)

Interfaith Liaison Committee and the Talanoa Document

The ILC works as a platform for faith-based organisations to facilitate dialogue and action. The ILC meets during the annual UN climate negotiations and regularly online to collaborate on faith advocacy for climate ambition, embracing all the pillars of the UNFCCC and of the Paris Agreement. The World Council of Churches staffperson, Henrik Grape, along with a non-Christian female co-chair, provides leadership to this group.

This year the ILC sponsored a gathering at a local Glasgow synagogue and organized a conversation amongst those 200+ persons gathered there and on-line in a process called a Talanoa Dialogue. This is a process, originating in Pacific islands, through which each participant is offered time and space to offer up their thoughts concerning the matter being considered by the group. The group sang and prayed together and then responded to the questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there?

The process extended late into the night and included break-out discussion groups on the key themes mentioned by participants. Based on this Talanoa, Henrik and a few others developed a document that was presented to the COP leadership. I will be happy to make the entire document available to anyone who would like to see it, but here are the key “asks”:



We call on COP26 to

● include faith groups as a constituency in the climate talks.

We invite people of faith to

● advocate by example and highlight different ways of living with a smaller ecological footprint.

Resilience and empowerment

We invite people of faith to

● create time and spaces for meditation, prayer and silence for people to gain the perspective of working for the whole of the natural world, of which humanity is one part.

● create programmes for empowerment of people mentally, physically and materially at all levels to respond to the urgency of the present time.


We call on COP26 to

● provide more grants rather than loans and erase climate debts.

● move from “aid” to “just compensation” for the Global South.

● deliver climate finance at scale and meet the USD 100 billion finance target.

Loss and damage

We call on COP26 to

● effectively address loss and damage in a spirit of solidarity between the Global North

and Global South.

● provide new, additional and necessary finance to help poorer and more vulnerable

countries to address loss and damage.

Gender Inclusive Climate Action

We call on COP26 to

● monitor and ensure that the Gender Action Plan is implemented nationally, and in

international cooperation, including through climate finance.

● ensure that a holistic, intersectional, and transformative lens is clearly incorporated

into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Action Plans.

● develop proposals and processes in consultation with grassroots women’s



We call on COP26 to

● ensure adaptation is at the centre of the climate agenda.

● make 50% of the annual $100 billion commitment for climate action available for adaptation, and available now.

Human rights

We call on COP26 to

● promote accountability among the parties of the UNFCCC for their climate actions, in

particular in proving that their climate actions do not infringe on human rights.

● ensure policy coherence between climate change, development and human rights.

● uphold human rights principles in the NDCs.

Just Transition

We call on COP26 to

● develop spaces for social dialogue.

● ensure that the costs of transitioning to a post-fossil fuel economy do not fall on the

already vulnerable, including by providing training, compensation, and social

protection for workers.

Climate science

We call on COP 26 to

● take decisions that align with climate science delivered by IPCC reports.

● involve faith-based organisations and their traditions that promote a more sustainable lifestyle.

Indigenous people

We call on COP 26 to

● protect indigenous peoples’ rights when taking action on climate change.

● take notice of the Indigenous wisdom and worldviews.


We call on COP 26 to

● incorporate an intergenerational perspective in every decision made to halt

greenhouse gas emissions.

● ensure the representation of young people in climate discussions.

Global Governance

We call on COP 26 to

● start a process to design and build new global institutions and initiatives

based on an ethic of caring for all, with a clear commitment to take care of

each other, across the whole of the human family

● foster a spirit of ethical leadership and accountability in the UNFCCC


● close the gap between word and deed in the climate decisions made under UNFCCC


COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt

In looking toward the next COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt the question was asked what specific issues or concerns members of the group might suggest for organizing our efforts there. I suggested that this location would be an excellent one for raising the topic of water rights and use, its scarcity, its symbolic place in the various religious cultures and the conflict it increasingly engenders among the various national and business interests that rely on it. The case studies of the Nile and the Jordan were suggested as important for us to lift up during our time there.


ACT Alliance Loss and Damage Event

Speakers differed somewhat on whether it is possible to actually quantify the issue of the adequate compensation due to a region for the destruction of animal habitat, such as coral reefs, whole species of life forms, etc. which, once they are gone can no longer be brought back to life. 

One speaker, however, offered that “Fair share” costs have been quantified through complex economic models as developed by an institute (in Stockholm I believe). This is based on the “polluter pays” principle, and factors in the historic amount of carbon and other greenhouse gasses and other harmful actions contributed by various nations of the “developed” world. This renders it possible and imperative that wealthy nations fund a program to make reparations and pay expenses of loss and damage.

Faith actors have an important role to play in providing healing and leadership in address loss and damage.


First Final Day, Nov. 12

We finally arrived at the last scheduled day of COP when the 196 national partners to the Paris agreement would hopefully come to an agreement on the exact wording of their “Decision Statement”. 

At our morning briefing, Cornelia, the German ACT Alliance chairperson came to our morning strategy session and announced that she had just left a consultation with the German negotiators. They had announced that the initial summation of the International Energy Agency that the various Nationally Determined Comittments and other initiatives of the previous two weeks would assure, (if fully kept) that the earth would not warm beyond an additional 1.8 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial surface temperatures, 

Counted theoretical “sinks” and the turning away from fossil fuels was “bull-shit”. When I asked for clarification about this she responded that this is because it depended upon an overly optimistic and speculative scenario in which all the nations would fulfill their committments in ways they have never done in the past. The more realistic number, she was told, is around 2.4 degrees Celsius, which is practically un-survivable. This is the number offered by the Carbon Tracker organization.

Positives and Negatives

According to one blogger, James Murray, “If you're looking for #COP26

 upsides it's notable no one is arguing about the science, no one is arguing about whether climate change is a crisis, and no one is arguing whether we need to get to net zero emissions or not. The disagreements are all about precisely how we deliver.”

The speaker from Panama was quite direct in challenging the efforts to water down the fossil fuel language and called to leave it in the ground. He also called on negotiating teams to include indegenous, female and young people and their gifts as Panama has done. The average age of their delegation is 29!

In the afternoon, there was a “People’s Plenary” approved by the Presidency and security people, that started in the Blue zone and then moved outside to join with the youth from Fridays for Future school strike. There was a good bit of chanting and speeches, but the crowd seemed small for what they were trying to accomplish. I’d say around a thousand people, tops. 


But at the end of the day, there was no agreement on the decision document and the Presidency had to work through the night to draft something that would be watered down enough for all parties to agree to support and say the event had been a success.

Second Last Day, Saturday, Nov. 13th

New drafts of an agreement on the different sections were released at 8:00 a.m. this morning and are being debated and “tweaked” (read: watered down even more.)

Another COP is now past and all the activists are frustrated and disappointed with the out-come of this event that was billed as the “last hope for planet earth.”

At the moment it appears as though this draft will be agreed.

1)It calls for the reduction and phase out of “un-abated use of coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

2)It places “loss and damage” into play as a new section of concern but without a specific financial commitment

3)It apologizes for lack of honoring the 100 billion USD per year for mitigation and adaptation transfer from wealthy nations who have created the problem to the poor nations who have contributed far less and to implement this beginning immediately.

4)Establishment and funding of the Santiago Network to provide technological expertise to poor countries

5)specific call for gender inclusiveness and local wisdom in decision-making in the process of mitigation and adaptation

6)It calls for nations to renew commitments every two years rather than the Paris agreement’s every five years.

There are many details that could have been better or different. For instance, in the last moment, after hours of “informal stock-taking” comments by one after another parties, India asked for (more likely, demanded) a revision in the text replacing the phrase “phase out the use of unabated coal with “phase down the use of unabated coal” basically stripping the most impactful element in the document. However,  it does keep the 1.5 degrees celsius surface temperature increase since pre-industrial times goal within reach. 

Once again we learn: 

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” 

Frederick Douglass


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