The COP26 Experience

By Fr. Liam Dunne, SVD

I have to express my gratitude and appreciation to VIVAT International, New York, for the opportunity to represent VI at the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in Oct. & November 2021.

I was pleased to link up with my fellow teammates for the occasion, Bro Alberto Parise (Comboni) and Sr. Ida Haurand SSpS.  We were a good team with different levels of expertise.  Alberto was experienced in social concerns; Ida was experienced in media productions, and I was there supporting them and learning about everything.

Immediate impressions

The COP29 experience was a big eye-opener for me.  It was a new experience.  Each day, we traveled by train to the SEC (the Scottish Event Centre), which took about 25 minutes, from the Comboni House in Carmyle, in the suburbs of Glasgow.

Upon arrival, on the first morning and every other morning, we presented ourselves at the security barriers and got into the grounds of the Centre.  We joined the huge queue to move into the Centre itself, which took some time.  Inside, we were photographed and given our name tag with a photo that was worn and shown every day and while going from room to room for the various talks end activities.  From there, we were directed to another room where we were presented with free travel passes for the fortnight, a bottle of personal sanitizer, a package of sanitizer wipes, an aluminum bottle that we could use throughout our stay for refilling with water, and finally, two boxes of things needed for our daily morning Lateral Flow Covid Tests.

These were all most useful to us during our stay.

This first morning was an opportunity for the three of us to meet for the first time in person and to get to know the initial layout of the place, which was huge.  As one BBC reporter stated, he walked seven miles within the site as he moved around looking for stories to report.  We were surprised at how many “steps” we were doing as we walked back and forth.

There were four distinct areas in our Blue Zone, I would say.  The first consisted of the large meeting space under the Globe.  There were the 2 Action Rooms, 1 & 2, for presentations, often with Panels, etc. And there was the Hub – a space used for short 30-minute presentations.  We met each morning under the Globe to prepare ourselves for the day, as did hundreds of others as well.

The second area, in another building, consisted of the Pavilions.  Many countries and businesses had a pavilion, be they big or small.  Governments and organizations hosted talks, lectures, and displays about climate-related matters throughout each day.   Several of them also offered coffee throughout the day.  Three of them were very generous to us: the Wind Energy Pavilion, the Australian Pavilion, and the United Kingdom pavilion.

Continuing through to the end of the Pavilions, we exited and then entered the next building, which was huge.  It consisted of a large area for computers and for working online.  Next to them were the two largest halls used for the Plenary Meetings or popular panel discussions.   In Cairn Gorm, the President, Alok Sharma, read out the final Declarations.   On either side of these large rooms were many other smaller rooms used by groups all the time.  In one of them, we had our meeting with the Vatican delegation.  (Only space for 20 allowed).  In this vicinity and the Hall with the Globe, many of the Media had their stands where they could be seen interviewing personalities and providing their live broadcasts to the world every day.

The Contents of the Business Each Day

Each day, the observers and all attendees were presented with a vast and extensive Agenda and Schedule of talks, discussions, or activities on what was known as the UNFCCC Platform or on Screens placed strategically throughout the Centers.  At first, it was difficult to grasp these arrangements as they were often clashing with other interesting talks.  Upon our arrival in the Globe Hall, we discussed and sorted out what talks we could attend together or individually.  After that, we went to wherever we had decided upon.  These talks frequently had an introductory talk by a British Minister, who then introduced one or two or even three panels discussing the issues of that day’s particular theme.

Each day had a Theme that guided the discussions.  The first two days were on the statements of Heads of States, which we could not attend because of number and space limitations.  However, we could follow online.  Since we were barred from attending the High-Level Statements of Leaders, we attended our first presentation in the UK Pavilion, which dealt with the effects of drought on the women in Zambia.  Among the speakers were Alistair, the Head of SCIAF; the Scottish Caritas; the head of Oxfam UK, two indigenous ladies. And the Minister of International Development of the Scottish Government.

The succeeding days were dedicated to the Indigenous Peoples, Finance, Energy, Climate Justice and Gender Justice, Nature, Loss & Damage, Adaptation and Mitigation, Science and Innovation, Gender (dealing with the situation of women and girls in developing countries.), and Transport

The reflections and the discussions on these topics were fascinating and informative.  They allowed us to see in the flesh many well-known people such as Antonio Gutierrez, Secretary-General of the United Nations:  The First Minister of Scotland; Hon. Teresa May; Rep. Nancy Pelosi; John Kerry; Al Gore; many distinguished spokeswomen and men and representatives of the Indigenous communities.  And there were many business leaders too, men and women, telling us of their plans for Greening their industries and businesses.

Faith Matters

We had looked forward to encountering a dynamic and vibrant Catholic Group and an interfaith group at COP26.  Our desire was not to be met.

We found a WhatsApp group for Catholics on our second day, which invited us to a meeting under the Globe.  We attended, with about 40 people.  There were representatives from Trocaire (Ireland), SCIAF (Scotland), some German youths, two OFMs, two men from Kenya and Uganda, representing Catholic Students, some from Austria, and a Reporter from the National Catholic Reporter of the USA.  The WhatsApp group did not bear much fruit afterward.  There was frequently a lot of irrelevant chat but nothing constructive about regular meetings or moments of prayer or planning something together.

One day, we saw that a Faith Meeting was scheduled for 8.30 am. We attended, but nothing happened.  We met a man, a leader of the group, from Sweden, working with the World Council of Churches in Geneva.  We had a good chat with him.  He took our details and promised to get back to us.  It was five days before he did.  It was then to inform us that there would be a meeting at a future date.  We got to it and found a group of about 30 people consisting of Bahai’s, Muslims, Presbyterians, etc. Albert and I were the only Catholics.  It was only a short meeting.  However, we were surprised to discover that they were beginning to make plans for the next meeting of COP 27 in Egypt!!!!  We gained very little from that meeting, apart from seeing how important it is to anticipate and prepare.  Again, we have not received the promised documentation from that meeting since.

In my meanderings, I noted that there were 2 Meditation Rooms in the Pavilions area.  One for men and one for women.  They were for Muslims.  Nothing specific for Christians.  On Sunday, we managed to attend a special mass for COP26 in St Aloisius’ Parish Church.  This was a beautiful celebration with a great choir and organ and brass instruments.  But it seemed to be attended by more local people than delegates.

Future Challenges for VIVAT International

  1. We must know about the framework and expectations of such an event so that we are not overwhelmed by it all.
  2. The delegates would benefit from being aware of the terminology used in such matters, understanding terms like, Constituency; CAN; COP; Loss & Damage; Adaptation & Mitigation; Climate Justice & Human Rights; MAPA and NDC.
  3. We should have more precise stories about our members which detail what we are about, i.e., what our members are doing in many parts of the world concerning Climate Justice; Assistance to Women; Inventions, etc.
  4. We should have a post-card-sized information card about VIVAT International that we could present to people we meet and are interested in knowing more about us.
  5. Importantly, we need to be organized about knowing our so-called CONSTITUENCY. We were at a loss as to know with whom we should have allied ourselves to have our points of view heard and to assist in formulating policies that could then be presented through the Constituency.  Otherwise, we risk wandering.
  6. It was interesting to see towards the final day that many groups had prepared their Press releases which they distributed publicly.
  7. We should work to strengthen the Catholic Group presence. With prior arrangements, it could be agreed that Catholic Agencies or representatives could arrange a rally or a display in one of the Corridors during the meeting, on one day, as we saw many young groups do.
  8. We note with concern that it will be more challenging to find suitable accommodation in a holiday resort for the next meeting in Egypt.

In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful Sisters of Nazareth and the Comboni Missionaries. They so generously and graciously welcomed us all for the duration of our stay in Scotland.  I would also like to thank Bro Alberto and Sr Ida for their significant assistance, their friendship during the COP26.  I also thank Sr. Ida for her outstanding work recording our presence at COP26 through her daily recordings on YouTube, which will inform and keep the memory alive.  An exceptional word of thanks to Sr. Marides SSpS and Fr Paul Rahmat SVD for coordinating the whole event from their offices.  And finally, a big word of thanks and acknowledgment of those who contributed so well to the Webinar.  It was wonderful to learn from some of you engaged in helping our planet survive through your work for the care of creation.