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Climate pilgrims in Glasgow's George Square. Picture by Adrian Shaw
Climate pilgrims in Glasgow's George Square. Picture by Adrian Shaw

From 'Blah Blah Blah' to 'Geht Doch!'

Thursday November 18 2021

Adrian Shaw, who attended COP26 as a volunteer with Eco-Congregation Scotland, looks back at the event and assesses what has been achieved.

Eighteen months of planning, 54,000 registered attendees and two weeks of crowds, colourful demonstrations, and chaos on the streets of Glasgow.  What was that all about and where has it left us?

The Cop was so big, left so many impressions with so many contradictions that it’s almost impossible to summarise quickly. On the one hand its critics, including Greta Thunberg, dismissed it as blah blah blah, a failure and a waste of time. On the other, those who struggled through the torturous negotiations and tried to follow the mind boggling details described it more cautiously as a step in the right direction. No triumph but no disaster.

There were three parallel threads to the Cop. On the inside was the blue zone, a few hectares of ground ceded to the United Nations for a couple of weeks where New York style cops wandered around with guns in their holsters. Thousands of delegates, lobbyists, observers and the media milling around national displays or swarming through tented corridors on their way to the next meeting, an environment in feeling somewhere between an international airport and a corporate trade fair.

Across the river the green zone, a much more subdued affair run by the UK government giving corporate sponsors a chance to show off their green credentials.

And around all this and more interesting by far, the great city of Glasgow, with churches full of fringe meetings, pilgrims young and old arriving on foot from Cornwall, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere and protesters of every kind bringing light and noise to the streets.  All overlooked by a formidable police presence, lining the streets like so many Daleks on patrol, in their black kit and baseball caps of many colours, black, white or red.

The effect was overwhelming but now the dust has settled what do we take away?

Yes, there was a sea of greenwash in the national and corporate pavilions and we learned that the oil industry, while being invisible was there under thin disguise with 500 delegates observing, or quietly seeking to influence. And national delegations did not hesitate to assert national interest over global solutions. Memorably the Indian delegation insisted on a last minute amendment to the final text to soften criticism of the coal industry on which the Indian economy depends, an interesting display of diplomatic strength from a rising world power. It's just a pity it was negative in intent.

But there were far better things happening in the city where guests from around the world, many representing different faith groups, brought stories of pain or hope to share with their hosts and with the media. Over a thousand people across the city and beyond opened their homes to visitors, church halls hosted pilgrims and new global friendships were formed which could flourish and grow. Glasgow Churches Together, Interfaith Scotland, Eco Congregation Scotland and others including many congregations rose to the challenge. All can be justifiably proud of their contributions.

There were commitments made on reducing methane emissions, on combatting deforestation, and plans to reduce and ultimately quit the carbon economy of coal, oil and gas. There were profoundly important discussions on providing finance to developing countries to help them deal with loss and damage and to develop low carbon economies.

But there was failure to agree the radical cuts in emissions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and frustration that financial support to developing countries remains well below expectations. Governments have published ‘nationally determined contributions’ that set out commitments to reduce national emissions of greenhouse gases. If put into effect these will reduce the threat of global warming from over 4 degrees Celsius ten years ago to about 2.4 degrees Celsius. It’s better than before but it’s still not enough.

My strongest impression? Walking into Glasgow on a shockingly wet Friday afternoon with pilgrims from Sweden and Germany. We were all ‘sair droukit’ but were greeted warmly at Glasgow Cathedral with a quiet service of welcome and reflection. The pilgrims left an indelible impression of commitment and clarity of purpose in the minds of those they met. Their motto was Geht Doch, which in listening to them I came to understand implied ‘just get on with it’. And that is now a great motto for the Church to take forward. No more excuses, no more blah blah blah in church or state. Geht doch, just get on with it!

Adrian Shaw was Climate Change Officer for the Church of Scotland from 2007 to 2020. He is now a student at Glasgow University researching towards a thesis on Science, Religion and the Environment in Enlightenment Scotland: the Evidence of the Old Statistical Accounts.

Climate Justice Diaries: Reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

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