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Ecojesuit reflecting on challenges and hopes post-COP28 and beyond

(Photo credit: Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development)

Cyclone Freddy that devastated Southern Africa in March 2023 is one of the 240 climate disasters in 2023, according to a study by Save the Children International. The study also reported at least 12,000 lives lost this year, which is 30% more than in 2022. This is but one of the disasters this year that is going to continue to return and affect, not only the most excluded, but also the youth in their efforts for renewed commitment to climate action.

COP28 concluded with unsatisfactory gains with government Party delegates and participants returning to their home countries to grapple with the outcomes of COP28 amid exacerbating climate vulnerabilities. While the conference ended with much left to be desired, there were several moments of light. In all the statements made in the plenaries and negotiations throughout the entirety of the climate conference, science is no longer being denied. There is an acknowledgement and recognition of the call of climate scientists that phasing out fossil fuels is the only way to keep 1.5 alive.

During the opening ceremony, Jim Skea, Chair of the 7th Assessment Cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated in his address, “I can reassure you that the scientific community is poised, using the resources available to it, to support the outcomes of COP 28 in shaping climate action based on science. But let us recall, science by itself is no substitute for action.”

Sadly, the final agreement fails to reflect this urgency and is full of loopholes such as “transitioning away from fossil fuels,” “transition energy systems”, and “transition fuels”. In the closing plenary, several developing countries alluded to developed countries “blocking” Parties from reaching a full phaseout agreement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres directly spoke about this in his address at the closing plenary. “To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase out is inevitable whether they like it or not.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

Many developing countries such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Latin American countries spoke out with integrity that the agreement does not respond to climate realities in the Global South. Anne Rasmussen, Samoa lead negotiator and AOSIS chair, emphasized during the closing plenary how COP28 failed in this. “We have come to the conclusion that the course correction we have needed has not been secured. It is not enough to reference the science and then ignore what the science is telling us we should do.”

Global South countries also warned that the use of language such as “transition energy systems” is a form if neo-colonialism. International reviews on COP28 acknowledged the unfinished business, but on the bright side, the elephant in the room – fossil fuels – has finally been named in the agreement.

During a press conference at the closing of COP28, John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, also echoed his support for the cries of Global South countries. “Clearly, we would have liked to have seen ever greater ambition, as called for by [youth] organizers and frontline communities around the world – particularly small island states for whom we know this is an immediate crisis. And we will continue to press for a more rapid transition, in recognition of the risks they face.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Chair of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working for peace, justice, human rights and a sustainable planet, shared her views on the agreement. “The COP28 agreement, while signaling the need to bring about the end of the fossil fuel era, falls short by failing to commit to a full fossil fuel phase out. Climate action must not cease because the gavel has come down on COP28. Every day of delay condemns millions to an uninhabitable world.”

Former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore in his statement emphasized the limitations of the final agreement. “The decision at COP 28 to finally recognize that the climate crisis is, at its heart, a fossil fuel crisis is an important milestone. But it is also the bare minimum we need and is long overdue. The influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes included in the final agreement.”

The climate crisis will only get worse and will further compromise food security. This is another failure of COP28 despite the Presidency’s supposed focus on food systems. While the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action was a significant advancement, yet again the failure has been in not getting implementation mechanisms on the ground made clear. Moreover, negotiations to finalize the procedures of the Sharm El Sheikh Joint Work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security (SSJW) been stalled until the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June 2024. Industrial agriculture was not put in the spotlight while the presence of 340 lobbyists for the industry were found in the different negotiations.

In the final stretch of COP28, it was also decided that COP29 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan which is another oil-rich nation. Concerns were raised over this decision given Azerbaijan’s poor track record on human rights and civil liberties. 

With all these shadows, COP28 and now COP29 being held in petroleum nations highlights constraints of these countries on the overall environmental disasters that are mounting and tipping point that are not reversable in any measurable way in terms of human existence. This reinforces the need for civil society to stay engaged and united post-COP28 and beyond.

The emerging role of faith and networking in international discussions

Catholic Actors at COP28

The role of the faith voice in international relations is gaining further traction. The Vatican State is now an official Party that can engage in the negotiations. In COP28, faith groups came together and now, a Catholic COP network is being formed to sustain engagements in future COPs.

Ecojesuit is grateful to Jesuit partners and their presence at COP28 to keep the voices of the Global South alive through different institutions and means: Leonard Chiti SJ, Provincial of the South African province, joined the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) delegation. Charles Chilufya SJ and Ngonidzashe Edward SJ of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa organized events at the Faith Pavilion. Cristóbal Emilfork SJ from Chile came through the American Anthropological Association and is doing his research on the COP process. Rigobert Minani SJ joined as a Party delegate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Ecojesuit team discussed about the significance of the first ever Faith Pavilion, and to what extent has civil society influenced the course of COP28 discussions. The pavilion had its limitations and is challenged to grow in serving as a space for dialogue and encounter. On the other hand, civil society groups actively engaged their country negotiators to share their views on the negotiating texts.

The Catholic Church is recognizing the value of engaging in such international relations. The Holy See delegation led by the Apostolic Nuncio held regular dialogues with Catholic groups at COP28 to seek their inputs on the negotiation texts. One of the main points that the Holy See highlighted is the role of education as a cross-cutting theme and its important role in ecological care.

Pope Francis in his address (delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin on his behalf) during the World Climate Action Summit emphasized this point. “Climate change signals the need for political change… In this regard, I would assure you of the commitment and support of the Catholic Church, which is deeply engaged in the work of education and of encouraging participation by all, as well as in promoting sound lifestyles, since all are responsible and the contribution of each is fundamental.”

Laudate Deum emphasized the growing presence of faith in the COP process and brought further awareness on its importance. This will influence possibilities of the social processes in COP. Stanko Perica SJ of the Croatian Jesuit Province and Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Southeast Europe highlighted the need to strengthen and build Jesuit engagement in such high-level international meetings. The Society of Jesus has much to contribute in the areas of social justice and ecology, and networking humbly brings institutions together to contribute globally as a collective.

On 18 December 2023, the Ecojesuit team gathered virtually to exchange reflections and insights post-COP28, what the challenges and learnings are in the process, and the value of our engagement in the global climate summit. The group explored possible actions to keep the urgency alive in the national context.

In 2024 to 2025, countries will be preparing a new set of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that outlines national commitments to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. This is key for civil society to participate in to ensure that local vulnerabilities are put at the heart of NDC formulation. Some members of the Ecojesuit team shared their insights moving forward.

Mercedes Solis from the Integral Ecology Reference Group of the Conference of Jesuit Provincials in Latin America and the Caribbean (CPAL) have actively shared COP developments throughout the conference, and are keen in taking advocacy actions forward in all of CPAL’s ministries. This will be the group’s key focus in the coming months.

Ann Marie Brennan from Christian Life Community (CVX-CLC) affirmed the importance of engaging nationally in terms of the NDC formulation process. Reaching out to other civil society groups is key for further impact. John Kennedy Savarimuthu SJ, Ecology Coordinator of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) shared that the JCSA Ecology Network (EcoJesuits) is committed to engage with other civil society groups in keeping climate justice alive in the NDC process.

The group affirmed the importance of engaging in COP30 in Brazil as a collective, especially among Jesuit social action centers and universities in CPAL. COP30 in Brazil is also a critical opportunity to lobby for the rights of Indigenous peoples and nature, and Jesuit institutions urgently need to secure UNFCCC accreditation for the COP30 cycle. COP31 in 2026 will also be crucial with Heads of State set to sign another legally-binding international treaty. The conference will possibly be held in Australia, and Pacific Island Nations need to be at the frontline.

It is Ecojesuit’s continued effort in the coming year to explore how local actions can be uplifted in global discussions. Agroecology is identified as a key focus as this impacts the most vulnerable the most in the context of food and water vulnerability.

We are faced with a significant challenge to effectively uplift local realities in international discussions. COP is an important space for faith groups to remain engaged in to better understand international relations in the context of the common good.  

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