It was another beautiful autumnal day in Glasgow, and the overnight news was that a first draft of a final agreement from COP26 had been published. This is when the real horse-trading begins; the final document has to be agreed by the 200 countries around the negotiating table, and their interests and priorities are very different. Key points of contention are:

  • All parties are urged to come back in 2022 with a clear plan on their new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to cur greenhouse gas emissions that aligns with the Paris temperature goal. But is that 1.5C or 2C? It’s not yet clear.
  • The draft also mentions for the first time the ending coal reliance-but only as an aspiration, not a target. Similarly, though it mentions the ending of fossil fuel subsidies, it does not specify oil and gas.
  • There is a suggestion of the doubling the finance available for adaptation to climate change, but again without any specifics around delivery. And since the existing commitment of $100 billion has not itself been met, there is understandable scepticism on the part of developing countries.
  • And though loss and damage compensation for poor countries for the harms they are already suffering as the result of global warming makes it into a COP document for the first time, the draft is very vague on this.

Altogether, it’s an attempt to include lots of good aspirations while offending no one-and extremely short on the kind of detail on implementation and delivery that would turn pledges into reality. As it was always going to be, the question of finance will be the toughest battle of COP26, and for the tens of thousands of climate campaigners outside the Blue Zone, as well as the less powerful and wealthy nations within it, how that is resolved will be the true measure of success.

An exhibition I went to yesterday brought one particular issue into sharp focus for me. It was organised by the Rachel Carson Centre (a multi-national and multi-disciplinary institute based in Munich, and named for the pioneering American environmentalist), and was called RCCGlasgow, and profiled the work of researchers and practitioners from across the Environmental Humanities.

A Luxembourg-based member of the Iona Community, Gerry Taylor Aitken, has been working on the exhibition for the best part of a year, and it’s a fascinating showcase of community-based action in transitioning and adaptation to climate change. From the Niger Delta of Nigeria, where environmental politics must contend with transnational oil companies and a collusive government, to the racism inherent in energy-profligate American suburban planning, these case studies underline the complexities of carbon transitioning and the need for serious research and concerted local, national and international action. I found an explanation of why the city of Calcutta is less subject to climate emergencies than other parts of India intriguing.

But the example that really caught my attention was from the Philippines, from a woman journalist who had reported on Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which had wiped out the city of Tacloban. Perhaps it had especially caught my attention because through my job with Christian Aid, I had chaired the Disasters Emergency Committee in Scotland Appeal for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. It was a terrible and destructive tragedy, but the journalist had been struck by how much of the mainstream international media coverage had emphasised the resilience of Filippinos, showing them smiling while rebuilding their homes. This narrative, glorifying ‘resilience’, is popular, with western aid agencies among others, but it can be easily abused to provide an excuse for political complacency.

As Alanah Torralba says, ‘In the Paris Agreement, loss and damage is discussed in terms of deploying widescale insurance as a climate solution. Not only is this a blatant financialisation of climate change as it becomes the target of big business, it is yet another way to shift the burden of adaptation and recovery to those who have contributed the least to this crisis. I encourage you to re-examine resilience in the context of climate justice. We must remake resilience into a force for collective action to demand accountability. This is something worth fighting for.’

The nearest I have myself got to the Blue Zone was yesterday evening when I went to the security barriers to join an interfaith candle-lit vigil in solidarity with those within the Zone seeking to strengthen the loss and damage section in the draft agreement. Since it had been organised by the Quakers, I imagined a silent, prayerful gathering. I don’t know what I was thinking! This is COP26; the vigil had been embraced and surrounded by hundreds of Extinction Rebellion activists, who are everywhere, along with a women’s drumming band (of whom, more perhaps another day). So the prayer was quite dynamic!

And my photo today, just so you can get a peep inside the Blue Zone, is of the Iona Community’s man on the inside, Eco-Congregation Scotland Chaplain.

 – Kathy Galloway

Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

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