The People I Met

Observations and Reflections from COP27 (Part 5)

January 12, 2023

The high point of attending conferences like a climate COP is always connecting with people in person rather than through a computer screen.  It is consistently a gift to meet others over coffee or meals, in follow-up conversation after a seminar, or even at “divine appointments” while in a line or taking a short break on a bench.

The CCOP 2022 Team at COP27 (Photo: Lynne Marian)

I went to COP27 this year as part of the leadership team of the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP) – a joint project in which A Rocha Canada (ARC) is one of the organizing partners. I served as the de facto “registrar” for the program, processing all the applications and arranging some of the observer badges shared by A Rocha International, an accredited NGO at the UNFCCC. After receiving an unprecedented number of applications, CCOP managed to accept 27 participants from seven countries, including four from Africa. Most CCOP participants this year were young college students. There were also college graduates just starting their careers, along with a university professor, a climate scientist who recently completed her PhD, several community advocates, ministry workers at Christian denominations and mission agencies, and youth workers. They bring with them Christian convictions, expertise, and backgrounds from all walks of life. I’m deeply encouraged by the desire each of them demonstrate to connect their Christian faith (some “young” in faith and others veterans of ministry leadership) with caring for God’s creation and concerns about the climate crisis. Most of them have been rather lonely on their climate or creation care journeys, and are glad to find a new “family” at CCOP. During the two weeks at COP27 they prepared firsthand eyewitness accounts and reports via the program’s daily newsletters. Some have published articles about their experiences and observations in local newspapers or other platforms while a few have been interviewed by news media (just a sample: “Climate Action as Worship” by Paris Liu, a Canadian CCOPer. Here for A fuller list of reflection articles and interviews by others). For many CCOP participants, their participation as an official observer at COP27 represents a new chapter in their climate activism and from this point forward they belong to a like-minded Christian community of allies and colleagues around the world, empowered by an enriched Christian theological foundation.

CCOP team members presented the climate-stripes scarfs to key policy makers and influencers (Photo: left – Steven Guilbeault, the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change with three Canadian CCOPers, by Rynn Zhang; upper right – Former VP Al Gore, by Brian Webb; lower right – US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with two US CCOPers, by Angelea Hayes)

CCOP participant Jane Kelly presented the climate-stripes scarfs to Katharine Hayhoe and Bill McKibben at the CCOP group dinner (Photo: Lynne Marian)
CCOP Team prayed for Vanessa Nakate (Photo: Samuel Chiu)

As a team, CCOP organized meetings with some extraordinary people at COP27. We arranged a dinner with the leading climate activist, Bill McKibben, and the world renowned climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe (both are well-known devoted Christians). What a delight to see our young participants seated in circles, in deep conversation with these legends, drawing on their wisdom while also being heard! Jane Kelly, a CCOP participant from Australia, brought a couple dozen scarfs with her, hand-knitted by people in her community in the climate stripes pattern, and presented them to key decision makers and influencers we met including Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and Steven Guilbeault (the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change), as a gesture of encouragement from the grassroots of climate action. We also got the chance to speak with a few scientists in leadership roles. One of them, a confessing Christian, described feeling challenged to explain to colleagues how her faith is the prime motivation for the work she is so passionate about. After only ten minutes of candid conversation we prayed for her before she rushed off to lead an important panel session. Then on the last day of COP we met with Vanessa Nakate (also here for her Twitter feeds), the founder of Rise Up, an African youth climate movement.  She is also a devoted Christian and she mobilizes tens of thousands of African youth to engage in climate change activism. After sharing some of the challenges she faces we prayed for her on the spot, with her joining us on her knees. I will never forget these scenes!

CCOP Team met with a key official of the US Delegation to COP27 (Photo: Ben Richards)

Sometimes people, either friendly or skeptical, ask me, “Why would you fly thousands of kilometers, at high cost, both in financial terms and carbon emissions, to go to these conferences? Wouldn’t Zoom calls do the job?” I respond to this legitimate question with the following: 

A CCOP participant from Kenya told me her story. She is a long-time organizer on environmental and justice issues, being the founder of a local, community-based NGO mobilizing and educating thousands in her region. For years, she has tried to make contact with other organizational leaders in her own country, without much success. In contrast, during one week at COP27 in Egypt, equipped with the CCOP team and an observer badge, she made in-person connections and had face-to-face conversations with many of those leaders and potential partners. These encounters open the door for follow up conversations once returning home, with the potential for countless opportunities to partner and collaborate. 

Anecdotes like this convince me, that everything we are doing is worth all the effort!

This is the final post in a series of five reflections from COP27 in November 2022:

  1. En Route to Sharm el-Sheikh
  2. A Very Different COP
  3. The Results
  4. “Loss and Damage”
  5. The People I Met

Featured photo: Allen Drew, via Christian Climate Observers Program

(This post was first published at A Rocha Canada’s blog – COP27: The People I Met. Special thanks to my colleague Rick Faw, for his tireless efforts of editing and streamlining the text of these posts, making them a much better read.)

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