Compromised by vested interests: UNCOP culture doesn’t match reality

Aug 1, 2023
COP 28 in Dubai United Arab Emirates world cloud.

At the end of a Retreat together on “Spiritual Leadership in Difficult Times”, a German social scientist asked me to help her to organise a Retreat for decision-makers at the next UNCOP – the annual UN Conference of Parties focused on preventing catastrophic climate change in ways that are just. Just, yes, especially towards those who have had the least benefit from a carbon economy but need help with adaptation, mitigation and support as regards the loss and damage already suffered.

After attending many COP’s her concern was with the limits of the COP culture: too conflicted to be effective; so pressured by the short timeframe; constrained by the mistrusting effects of nation state rivalries and compromised by the continuing influence of the vested interests of a carbon economy.

She and colleagues saw the need to facilitate more collegial, creative spaces where the many intelligent, gifted, knowledgeable people at a COP can meet and relate to each other in terms of their deepest truths and loves.

I said ‘yes’, thinking of our grandchildren and of a book about David Scott, a great Australian social reformer which I had helped launch at the Brotherhood of St.Laurence, ‘Always say yes!

We did our best to do this Retreat for those at UNCOP 25 in Madrid. Everyone thought it a good idea. Including folk from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] as well as negotiators, diplomats, etc…

I took a video with me of girls from one of the schools in my area as a bishop singing ‘what the world needs now is love ‘.

The idea was to hold this ‘pleasant afternoon’ on the middle Sunday, ahead of the final week of intense negotiations. Our plan included silent times for meditation; Mozart music; space for reflective conversations, if helpful, and a delicious afternoon tea with which to begin and end.

Many said they wanted to come; some said they would. Almost none did.

The busyness of the COP culture defeated our plan. There was a lot of leftover arvo tea!

But, in my understanding, in God’s economy nothing is wasted. The fact that we offered this lovingly did touch people. That we had no other agenda than to offer some loving kindness had its influence.

Some were not accustomed to anyone caring about their personal wellbeing in that COP setting.

It was much the same as I have found in prison ministry and the like. From these and other experiences I have learned that people can find it difficult to believe there isn’t some other agenda, especially if you look religious!

Often, of course there are very good reasons for that initial suspicion!

In the days that followed at that COP, I ended up concluding that my best possible contribution was just to be there quietly saying my mantra, “Jesus have mercy” whilst being available for any conversations…

There turned out to be many.

After Madrid there was the Covid pandemic and the delayed UNCOP 26 in Glasgow. Some of us couldn’t attend this because of the pandemic. We did what we could in hybrid fashion. We tried, unsuccessfully, to organise a better space within the COP for silent prayer and meditation as well as for offering the kind of care that pressured people who are far from home, can often find is helpful.

Our multi-faith global network offered what we could through the Interfaith Liaison Committee to the UNFCCC.

There were some positive outcomes but the vivid reality was and is that, whilst the Paris Agreement is a brilliant means through which the COP’s can contain the rise in global temperatures to that oft quoted 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels, the international community is not doing this fast enough!  The COP culture doesn’t match reality.

And reality is in our faces as we watch summer in the Northern Hemisphere and as we read the data.

After the largely ineffective UNCOP27 in Egypt, we now look to late November, UNCOP28 in the UAE.

Giles Partison’s article in ‘Pearls and Irritations’ [July 28] conveys how Australian political leadership, through Climate and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, recognises that it is too late to avoid the climate emergency but we may be able to avoid the worst of the climate emergency, ‘if we act swiftly’.

People of faith are at work, offering our unique contribution of spiritual practice, especially Prayer and Meditation. We know how this can change the atmosphere and help us with inspiration. We all know the difference between a holy place of  cordial relationships and a place fraught with human discord .

Negotiations continue with the UAE hosts over details for a special ‘Pavilion for faith and interfaith actors’, within the COP.

Of course, spiritual practice is at its best when linked to practical service, research and policy-focused advocacy.

In the past week, congruent with the urgency, I am aware of new initiatives in all these areas by people of faith in Australia and internationally.

‘Respond to every call that excites your spirit’, encouraged the poet Rumi. Thankfully many are doing this as regards the climate emergency, notwithstanding all the reasons for despair.

The Federal Government’s agenda is heavy with big issues.

But it would be timely to hold a couple of Roundtables involving those preparing for UNCOP 28.

This is a time when we Australians should maximise our cooperation so that we help this next COP achieve what ‘acting swiftly’ actually requires!


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