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PC(USA) delegation reflects on global climate summit and looks to the future

Speakers find signs of hope at COP28 despite shortcomings of diplomatic action

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterians were among those attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference held late last year in Dubai. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The belief that people of faith have an obligation to make their voices heard in the fight against climate change was expressed during a webinar by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterians for Earth Care.

The Tuesday night webinar gave members of the PC(USA)’s recent delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference a chance to share their reflections about the international gathering that took place in Dubai.

The high-profile summit, also known as the Conference of the Parties (COP28), resulted in diplomats from nearly 200 countries reaching a compromise that calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels” that are contributing to global warming, according to Reuters. The agreement also calls for accelerating efforts and doing so in a “just, orderly and equitable manner.”

Faith communities from various different religions were among those who attended the global climate talks, which took place in November and December, to show their concern for the environment and how God’s Creation is being affected by climate change and calamitous weather events.

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is really proud to be part of these voices of faith, saying we know that we need enhanced and immediate action and responses to jumpstart these transitions and to continue some transitions that are already happening in order to be able to protect island countries, lower-lying nations, that are really at risk for extinction if we don’t get moving into tangible action,” said the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Jessica Maudlin, who followed COP28 remotely on the Eco-Justice Journey blog and for the Presbyterian News Service.

Delegate Alethia White noted that because flight travel itself has an impact on the environment, she had to weigh whether to attend the summit. But she ultimately decided that the potential benefits of being at the event outweighed the negative.

“I still pick and choose what I travel to or how I travel to events, actually,” said White, co-regional liaison for Central and Northern Europe. “But I also think that showing up and being there is extremely important, especially now there’s a sense of … extreme urgency, and that’s just growing.”

She also noted that she has “a much better place to stand” with European partners now that she has attended COP28, where she was struck by the interconnectedness of a variety of issues that they care about. “Climate change is not unrelated to these other issues that we are all working on in terms of migration, racism, militarism, you name it,” she said. “It takes all of our efforts, so it’s important that we’re in there together.”

Christina Cosby, domestic policy representative for the Office of Public Witness, highlighted the connection between the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 invitation and COP28 issues. Climate change is an intersectional priority of Matthew 25.

“COP28 really brought to life for me the way that climate change truly is interwoven and intersects with all aspects of our lives,” she said.

The Rev. Jed Koball, a Joining Hands catalyst based in Lima, Peru, told the webinar audience that it was a privilege to be at the event and to witness negotiations. But he couldn’t help but notice some of the ironies, including the fact that the beautiful setting, from skyscrapers to roads, displayed the power of oil money.

Also, despite the agreement that was approved, “the oil industry got exactly what it wanted out of this COP,” he said. “It gave the perception that it was being reasonable, but at the end of the day, it kept all of its power to keep doing what it’s always been doing.”

On a more positive note, Koball noted that he was pleased with the ecumenical and interfaith presence at the event. He said it’s important for such groups to be present to bear witness to what’s happening, to be advocates and to hold leaders accountable. It’s also important to continue building coalitions to work beyond COP to “effectively take the power back away from fossil fuels, and get the power back to the people,” he said.

The Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, who’s attended many COPs, talked about some of the progress that he’s observed at the summit over the years, including the presence of people from the least developed countries. “Their delegations have been strengthened,” he said. “Their voices are heard. They’ve formed alliances, which make them a stronger presence, and that’s been a good thing.”

Somplatsky-Jarman, a former staff member of the Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), also was encouraged by the participation of young people. “I like to walk through the exhibit places and talk to the young folks, many of whom are studying climate science and other aspects of the issues, and to see the breadth of their knowledge, their commitment … It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Go here to view the webinar.

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