Reflections From COP26
The work of climate justice advocacy is light when each take a role in finding just and equitable solutions
Laura K. James November 19, 2021
“Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us. Make the work of our hands last. Make the work of our hands last!” Psalm 90: 17
In the opening statement of the World Leaders Summit, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley shared a communal proverb: “Many hands make light work.” This proverb is a powerful proclamation for the 197 countries and the 45,000 accredited participants for the twenty-sixth year of the United Nations Global Climate Conference.
Minister Mottley’s words are a call to action for all of us that are committed to the work of climate justice. The work of climate justice advocacy is light when each of us attend to our unique role in advocating for just and equitable solutions to address climate change.
Similar to Mottley’s statement, the prayer from Psalm 90 calls us as people of faith to acknowledge that in this world, we are all called by the kindness and presence of God to participate in sacred work, and advocacy. Especially for climate, that is holy work.
One of the values of the COP is that in a two-week period the whole world gathers to acknowledge and engage their specific role to address climate change. However, the reality of the COP is that amid the “many hands trying to make light work,” some members of the global community get in the way, and others create obstacles that make the work heavier than it needs to be, but justice still prevails.
I had the honor and privilege to witness the sacred work of climate justice advocacy through the perspective and leadership of frontline and grassroots leaders from all over the world. Their stories and personal commitments to climate justice reminded me that justice does not begin or end at the COP. Instead, the work of justice that requires many hands goes beyond this global meeting space and starts right in our communities.
There are many stories that inspired me from my time at the COP but there are two perspectives that I want to share as we as the Church continue to reflect on our role as climate justice advocates.
The first story comes from a panel discussion led by, If Not Us Then Who?, a “US-based not for profit that centers indigenous and local community leaders to protect the planet.” If Not Us Then Who? hosted many indigenous-led conversations addressing climate change through the Our Village collective during the COP. The panel discussion I attended was titled, “How do we build indigenous power in a time of crisis?” This discussion offered reflections from NDN Collective’s published book, ‘Required Reading: Climate Justice, Adaptation and Investing in Indigenous Power,’ highlighting indigenous leadership’s valuable role and purpose at the COP.
One of the comments made in the presentation that resonated with me was “colonialism caused climate change.” I left this panel discussion realizing that solutions to climate change that do not recognize the history of systemic extraction and harm from racism, colonialism, and social oppression are false solutions. For just and sustainable solutions to climate change to exist, there must be a focus on repair rather than creating solutions based on the same harm that brought us to this present moment.
As United Methodists called to ministry justice, we “commit ourselves to a new way of being that integrates environmental, economic, and social justice.” This new way of being must include repair, indigenous leadership, and centering experiences and solutions of the frontlines that uplift the dignity and value of the whole community. As people of faith, we must commit to centering and listening to these voices as we advocate for justice in our communities.
The second story I want to share is about a young leader from the Climate Justice 4 All Youth campaign. The Climate Justice 4 All Youth Campaign (CJ4A) is a partnership of the global Methodist family, initiated and funded by the Methodist Church in Britain, which has been supported by the World Methodist Council and The General Board of Church and Society and others in the United Methodist Church to mobilize the Methodist family to respond to climate justice.
The CJ4A team has six members that are from all over the globe. This team of six incredible young people worked hard in the weeks leading up to COP to curate events, lectures, and activities for the entire global Methodist church family to participate and engage in interactive ways to address climate justice.
The second story I want to share is about a young leader from the Climate Justice 4 All Youth campaign. The Climate Justice 4 All Youth Campaign (CJ4A) is an initiative from the World Methodist Council supported by The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church to mobilize the Methodist family to respond to climate justice. The CJ4A team has six members that are from all over the globe. This team of six incredible young people worked hard in the weeks leading up to COP to curate events, lectures, and activities for the entire global Methodist church family to participate and engage in interactive ways to address climate justice.
I had the opportunity to join the team for one of their events on youth engagement and activism led by Irene at Woodlands Methodist Church in Glasgow, UK. Irene shared her story of growing up in Italy, her call to climate justice and activism, and the Church’s importance in climate justice advocacy. One thing that resonated with me from Irene’s presentation was her comment on youth activism, using the biblical example of David and Goliath. Irene shared that David chose not to wear the armor as Goliath did. Instead, he decided to use what he had, and this is the call of faith activism and engagement; we are to use what we have, no matter our age, for social justice.
The COP experience taught me that many hands — Black, Indigenous, Brown, Youth, Politicians, Business Leaders, the Church — many hands are needed to make this work of climate justice light. Will you be one of them?