Hope amidst devastation as COP26 concludes

November 18, 2021

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”
Romans 12.12

Alok Sharma, the British MP serving as President of COP26, was visibly shaken as he gaveled the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact on Saturday afternoon at the conclusion of a challenging two weeks of negotiations at COP26, the UN Climate Conference. Several countries and negotiating groups—almost universally from the Global South—expressed sadness, frustration, and a sense of betrayal, both at the process that had led to the decision, and the decision itself.

COP26 was convened at the end of a year that saw multiple unprecedented climate-induced natural disasters in the Global North—extreme wildfires and a deadly heat dome in BC, severe drought in the prairies, flooding in Germany and Belgium, and a tropical cyclone hitting Australia—that some thought might provoke a shift in perspective among the world’s wealthiest nations. It was also a year that saw more and more public outreach, engagement and activism. Despite expressions of solidarity with the Global South, and even a sense of responsibility for historic emissions, commitments related to the mechanisms and resources of global climate finance (for both adaptation and loss&damage) fell far short of what is so urgently needed.

There was a glimmer of hope for a more ambitious outcome to the annual climate deliberations, however, when the first draft of the Pact was released on November 10. For the first time in history, “fossil fuels” were named in the draft decision text of a UN climate conference. This in itself, is as shocking as it is significant, representing a long-overdue acknowledgement of fossil fuels as contributors to the climate crisis. Even though this text was ultimately watered down, the mention of fossil fuels remains. Not the outcome we were looking for, but small steps forward. 

Now, as we look to the future, it is abundantly clear that (1) much more needs to be done, and (2) we are making a difference through our actions, our faithful witness, our amplification of the demands from the Global South, and our advocacy for climate justice.

As COP26 was set to conclude, South African human rights activist, Kumi Naidoo, issued a passionate plea to people across the globe. “We must not give up hope,” he said. “Those that are pushing for the worst outcome [at COP26] want you to feel hopeless. They want you to feel like our efforts do not count. And the message we must take from this COP is that this is a moment of intensification of resistance to the fossil fuel industry.”


A joint ecumenical delegation of the The United Church of Canada (UCCan) and For the Love of Creation (FLC) virtually attended the United Nations Climate Change COP 26 October 31 – November 12, 2021. Here are some of their closing reflections:

“As a virtual delegate I flicked between screens. I witnessed the COP26 of official stages and national statements that committed to lessen the harm we do to our planet. And I observed the COP26 of the People’s Conference and the side events that showcased people and places that are changing the world now. This experience leaves me reflecting on power. As an inheritor of the church language of dominion I come to see that steward, or even caretaker is still placing humans in a position of power. Placing us, by our language, as separate from Creation. After two weeks of digital discussion what reverberates in my heart is an invitation from indigenous communities. I pray we the church learn to lean into loving relationship with mother earth and all creation. I would never negotiate ‘less harm’ to my mother.” — Rev. Alecia Greenfield, Chair of the Diocese of New Westminster’s response to the Climate Crisis 

“Two days after COP26 ended, my home province experienced ‘atmospheric rivers’ and high winds that washed out sections of most highways and toppled the electrical lines. People have been evacuated from their homes, people are stranded in mountain passes, and some are dead or still missing! These were not ‘normal’ November weather patterns but are becoming as typical as the summer forest fires and droughts. Supply chains were already facing problems before the storm (before COP) and now we have no roads or rails connecting our ports to cities and towns. The world is watching and people are ‘connecting the dots.’ As the connections take place the work of community building and actively loving this fragile earth continue, because it is/can be a beautiful relationship, and she is calling us”. — Janet Gray, United Church of Canada/KAIROS Canada (Victoria, BC).

“It has been interesting to me, as the number of days after COP26 grows, to read about the ‘two’ COPs; the one that is ‘keeping 1.5 alive’ or the other that has ‘failed’ us in it’s lack of ambitious actions. Though I am still processing the massive intake of information over the last two weeks, I say that neither of those COPs actually exist. There was always going to be work to commit to after this conference, and so now that work takes centre-stage; the work of supporting those advocating for the mechanisms to fight climate change in their homes; the work of enabling our planet to heal; and the work of effecting just changes. There are more conferences of this scale on the horizon, and the work must continue to, through, and beyond those as well.” — Sabrina Chiefari, Creation Care Animator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.

“After Paris the talk was 2 degrees; now it’s ‘1.5 to stay alive (according to Mia Mottle, Prime Minister of Barbados).’ The implication of that (if reached) is like receiving a pardon from a death sentence. Having Loss and Damage firmly on future COP agendas is another big accomplishment, to me, akin to a defendant agreeing to settle out of a lawsuit. And finally the collection of numerous other initiatives and declarations announced and signed at Glasgow signal to me that we have governments (at all levels), financial institutions, businesses, NGOs all desiring to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change – even at the cost of reforming our global economy. Hallelujah! Now for the hard work; getting the church to take climate change and creation care as the central or core gospel issue and doing our part. And they said COP26 was hard!” — Nelson Lee, Earthkeeper – one of the Christians for Climate Justice (Vancouver, BC).

“We are at a crossroads. The time for reflection and adaptation has passed, and our new focus is centered around action. We have yet to contend with our footprints, our effect on ecosystems and one another. The pandemic has taught us we are globally linked. Our futures are tied together as our Indigenous Elders have often pointed out. As we move into an uncertain future, this crossroads between the way we have always done things and the search for answers, solutions and methods that rectify our impacts are needed. We are seeking reconciliation with the earth. An apology. A change of attitude and practice that shows we understand that our salvation is tied to the salvation of all. May we learn this lesson of acting in each other’s interests, the animate and the inanimate, for the continuation of creation. — Tony Snow, Indigenous Minister, Chinook Winds Region, United Church of Canada.

“Many in Canada have the privilege of merely feeling disappointed with the outcome of COP26. For the Least Developed Countries, low-lying island states, and Indigenous Peoples on the front lines of the climate crisis, however, the world’s failure to deliver measures to reduce emissions and adequately fund mitigation and adaptation measures in the Global South signals ongoing devastation, and potential extinction. Some are understandably drawn to despair. Fortunately, the fate of the climate doesn’t rest solely in the hands of ‘world leaders.’ There is hope and there is power in coming together to resist, to advocate, and to act for change.” — Karri Munn-Venn, Citizens for Public Justice (Luskville, Quebec).


Members of the joint United Church of Canada and For the Love of Creation virtual delegation toCOP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference: