On the twelfth day of COP26, the Presidency Programme had Cities, Regions and the Built Environment as its theme, and the UN Side Events had another extensive and diverse programme. But the People’s Summit for Climate Justice is finished, and many of the delegates and activists are leaving to begin their long journeys home. Some of these may be very challenging; visitors from East Africa, whose flights are routed through Khartoum, were hearing that the airport there may be closed as a result of deterioration of the security situation following the recent military coup in Sudan. Their journeys are anyway very long and tiring; now they seem full of uncertainty.

The focus is now firmly on the negotiations on the latest iteration of the draft agreement, which must be agreed by all participating countries. One significant and surprising announcement on Thursday was that China and the US have agreed to boost climate co-operation over the next decade. Between them, the two countries account for 40% of global emissions. And though they disagree on many other matters, both recognise the urgency of action for their countries, and for the world.

But though they are both big emitters, it’s worth noticing that this is not comparing like for like. The population of China is more than 4 times that of the US, at 1.4 billion people, and its individual emissions are around 8 tonnes per person per year (around the same as the 27 countries of the European Union, with their total population of about 447 million people). Emissions per person per year in the US are about 18 tonnes per person per year. With 4.2% of global population, the US consumes 17% of global energy, and holds 29.4% of global wealth.

China is also a developing country, whose economy is now the largest and fastest-growing in the world; it is the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter. It is essentially playing catch-up with the world’s developed countries, who have collectively produced four times more CO2 in cumulative emissions than China. So it’s not entirely fair to see China as the world’s villain in terms of climate change; it’s just that the wealthy countries have outsourced production of its consumer goods to China (and other, smaller developing countries). Look at the manufacturing labels on your clothes and household goods.

Much of China’s energy comes from coal, hence its reluctance to commit to tackling its domestic coal emissions while its population is still developing. But it will still suffer the consequences of global warming, like everyone else, So the joint steps agreed – on methane, forests and technology transfer – are important symbolically and also potentially in emissions terms. But for the most vulnerable countries, the low-lying and poorest ones, whose CO2 emissions are far below the 2.3 tonnes per person per year as it is, this statement by the big beasts is still too little and too slow!

Yesterday, I attended midday prayers in Glasgow University Chapel with the ecumenical Taize Community from France, who at the invitation of the Glasgow Churches COP26 Co-ordinating Committee have been leading prayers and vigils at churches around the city. Led by two of the brothers, and with young local musicians leading the singing, this was an oasis of calm reflection and focused prayer in the midst of the often frenetic atmosphere of COP26. The blessing was given by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who is part of the World Council of Churches delegation at COP26. Speaking to him afterwards, he did confess that half the time, he had no idea what was going on in the Blue Zone. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

The chance meetings and encounters are among the most precious gifts given by COP26; I was glad to meet a member of the Malawi delegation (Scotland has a close country-to-country partnership with Malawi), who works for Caritas Malawi, and who, I discovered, was also the Co-ordinator of the Malawi chapter of Side by Side for Gender Justice. I have been involved in the Scotland chapter of this organisation, so it was great to make contact with Chimemwe.

But for me, the most profoundly prayerful moment of the day, and perhaps of the whole two weeks, came when I walked with Alison and Robert Swinfen behind Little Amal. Little Amal, the 3.5 metre tall puppet figure representing a young Syrian girl refugee, who began her journey in Turkey, near the Syrian border, reached COP26 on Tuesday, after walking thousands of miles across Europe following in the footsteps of refugees.

On Thursday, we gathered on the Kelvin Way at dusk along with hundreds of others, many with young children, to greet this lost-looking giant child, as she slowly appeared, dragging behind her a dead tree. To the sound of evocative, often mournful music from the Nevis Ensemble (Scotland’s Street Orchestra) and a Gaelic choir, we followed her as she made her slow way a couple of miles through brightly lit streets and down to some warehouses and a barricade by the side of the Clyde. As we walked, I couldn’t help thinking about a filmed report from the Belarus-Poland border I had seen on the BBC news the previous evening, in which a small girl, maybe about seven years old, wept with cold, hunger and fear. Maybe some of you saw it. As the politicians and the powerful of every persuasion horse-trade round the tables, this is the reality of climate change, and conflict, and human heartlessness-weeping, terrified, homeless children.

– 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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