‘Don’t Cop Out!’ and ‘No More Blah, Blah, Blah’ were messages to our political leaders at the COP 27 summit in Egypt, from the Extinction Rebellion children’s protest march on my local Highstreet, one ‘unseasonably’ warm November day. Why so wary? The ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ (UNFCCC) is an international treaty agreeing to combat ‘dangerous human interference with the climate system,’ which was signed by virtually all countries in 1992 in Rio. Since then, UNFCCC representatives have been coming together in different cities around the world – as we know they were in Glasgow last year – during an annual Conference of Parties (COP). Three decades later, tragically, yet, as these children’s pleas suggest, predictably, COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh turned out to be almost as ineffectual in what it was set out to do, as the previous twenty-six. ‘Almost’ – because of the decision to compensate vulnerable nations who are now bearing the brunt of climate break-down, despite contributing little to either historical or current global emissions. Christian climate activists called it ‘a pin prick of light against the background of unabated climate breakdown.’
This Christmas and throughout the year Christian climate activists are hosting vigils for the earth. Vigils are religious practices that involve staying awake at times when it is normal and easier to sleep. Take for instance the vigil in the picture below, held in London just before the pandemic hit. Notice the Extinction Rebellion hourglass symbol with a Christian cross: these are Rebel Christians, a grassroots Christian network that faces many different publics. Here, gathered in front of the building hosting the Church of England’s annual general meeting, they are asking Church leaders to disinvest from fossil fuels. They are also facing the media and unengaged public, asking us to think about the future victims of global heating, symbolized by the children’s coffins piled up on the kerb.
The metaphor of ‘staying awake’ or ‘waking up’ is used by secular climate activists too. This seems appropriate as business-as-usual politics is starting to look more like sleepwalking into Mordor. This year COP 27 countries’ representatives did not reach an agreement to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, despite advice to do this from the UN’s own climate scientists. The world’s top climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), warned that we need to drastically reduce emissions by 2030, if we want to limit global heating to safer levels (Ripple et al, 2020). As this narrow window of opportunity is quickly closing, world leaders failed to agree, or even address, what we might have expected to be the at the top of their agenda: reducing carbon emissions. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, was cited saying: “We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue this COP (2022) did not address.”
Year after year we hear the same buzz words, ‘ambition,’ ‘priority,’ ‘renewables’… We hear empty lamentations from political leaders, like pulling humanity ‘back from the climate cliff’. Yet no clear global carbon commitments are made. There are disagreements and disputes over what measures are necessary to limit global heating. In these disputes, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is shaped by multinational corporations and the most powerful national governments, many among the major carbon-emitting countries, like Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Russian Federation, and the United States (Ali et al, 2021). Perplexingly, COP 27 has also seen an increase in the number of fossil fuels companies invited to the discussion table. And climate activists questioned the decision for COP 28 to be held in UAE, a Petrol state, in 2023.
Back in the UK, there is growing concern in climate activists’ circles about the increased crackdown of their protest activities, possibly reflected by research reporting that global democracy has hit a new low this year (The Economist, 2022). Yet a global survey looking at changing global values (The World Value Survey, 2022) suggests that countries where Protestant Christianities are culturally influential, such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, are better at both environmentalism and democracy. In that same vein, British Christians, I have argued, should be historically credited for the global shift towards progressive green values (Nita 2018, 2020). With a climate and energy crisis in Europe, and with politics failing us, can we look to religion, and specifically Christianity?
I hope so, because ‘religion’ is ‘politics too’. In fact, ‘religion’ could be ‘politics 2.0’ since ‘it’ has better resources, untapped social capital, and greater plasticity. Like other faith climate networks – such as Muslims Declare and XR Buddhists – Christian climate activists have an essential role to play inside the climate movement over the next decade. This is where my own vote is going, and I am proud to be able to contribute to chronicling their tireless efforts, creativity, and commitment.
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Ali, Shahid, Dogan, Eyup, Chen, Fuzhong and Zeeshan Khan. 2021. ‘International Trade and Environmental Performance in Top Ten‐emitters Countries: The Role of Eco‐innovation and Renewable Energy Consumption.’ Sustainable Development, 29 (2): 378–387.
Nita, Maria and Sharif Gemie. 2020. Counterculture, Local Authorities and British Christianity at the Windsor and Watchfield Free Festivals (1972–5), Twentieth Century British History, 31 (1): 51 -78.
Nita, Maria. 2018. ‘Christian Discourses and Cultural Change: The Greenbelt Art and Performance Festival as an Alternative Community for Green and Liberal Christians’ in Implicit Religion, 21 (1): 44-69.
Ripple, William J., Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw. 2020. ‘World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,’ BioScience, 70 (1): 8-12.
A new low for global democracy | The Economist [accessed 18 12 22]
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Convention documents | UNFCCC [accessed 12 12 22]
Extinction Rebellion: XR Buddhists – In grief and love for the Earth [accessed 18 12 22]
MUSLIMS DECLARE | A Climate and Ecological Emergency [accessed 18 12 22]
The Climate and Creation Emergency – Green Christian [accessed 11 12 2022]
WVS Database (worldvaluessurvey.org) [accessed 11 12 2022]