Reflecting on COP26 with Kari Miller

Kari Miller (A Rocha Manitoba’s Environmental Education Coordinator) recently got back from Glasgow, Scotland, where she was attending COP26 (the 26th Council of the Parties meeting on climate change) as an official observer.

Read on to hear about her experience! 

Tell me how you got involved in COP26.

I went to COP through the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP). This is a coalition of Christian NGOs that gathered together and sent 40 observers over the two weeks. Some of these NGOs included A Rocha International, A Rocha Canada, Climate Stewards, Houghton College, Eden Vigil, and the World Evangelical Alliance.

When you first applied, what were you imagining or expecting?

Truth be told, I didn’t realize the magnitude of COP26 until last Friday (November 12th) when I was sitting in the room and they were discussing the Paris Agreement, and I’m like, holy cow; I’m listening to stories of other nations, delegates telling us how their countries are collapsing because of climate change. People’s lives are on the line, and this agreement changes everything for them.

Kari (second from left) with other observers and delegates.

What was your role and the broader role of the CCOP participants at COP? What were you doing?

Primarily we were there as observers, which means that badges were given out to a number of different NGOs and party members to get entrance into the Blue Zone. The Blue Zone is a restricted access area, where the negotiations are happening. In the Blue Zone they were engaging the Paris Agreement; pulling it apart and putting it back together to make the Glasgow Climate Pact. As these negotiations are happening observers are allowed to be in the room listening and holding them accountable.

Then the second part is particular to the CCOP. Our role as Christians is to kind of be a witness-people who bridge the gap in between civil society and what’s going on behind the doors of the Blue Zone, as well as being a witness to hope. 

A lot of these negotiations at COP feel despairing. It is hard to hear that we’ve raised the floor to 2.4 degrees even though countries are threatened to be washed away. I think in these situations the church has something profound to offer, which is a sort of liturgy of lament, a narrative of sorrow, but also one that carries us into New Hope and to a God who is still willing to walk with us and to create and redeem, and nature that is resilient.

What events stand out to you as you’re reflecting on COP?

The panels that I took the most from were actually from my time in the Green Zone, the area where civil society is allowed; it’s full of artists and activists and NGOs. It’s a beautiful, vibrant life giving place of hope and of excitement and of some frustrations as well.

I also witnessed a panel of seven indigenous female elders from around the globe talking about their ways of knowledge, wisdom and culture. When taken hand in hand with scientific knowledge, this knowledge could actually be really beneficial. It was really cool to see all these women discussing their traditions and also lamenting the fact that we don’t call upon their wisdom, instead fumbling with our own mistakes.

Unfortunately the sessions in the Blue Zone were remarkably hard to understand. Sometimes you get sessions where people are just trying to sell you on stuff. That was really frustrating.

There were many art installations in the Green Zone.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the tone or atmosphere?

The tone is entirely different in the Blue Zone versus the Green Zone. The Blue Zone was very business professional – you’ve got a lot of people on a mission and usually with pretty stressed looks on their faces. There was also no one under 18 in the Blue Zone.

In the Green Zone, on the other hand, you had a lot of youth and people from society, so I found that the energy in the Green Zone was very exciting. People were talking about their pet projects, their passions, and what they’re doing with their NGO. The Green Zone felt hopeful and buzzing with energy, and the Blue Zone felt impersonal and exhausting. 

How do you imagine your experience at COP affecting your work in environmental education?

I see the value of the choices of how we live and engage in our own lives. And I want to continue to bring that into my work with children. If I think of the Steven Bouma-Prediger quote about caring, knowing, and loving – it brings to mind experiential learning. That’s what we do with the kids is provide experience so that they can care and know, it’s for their love for their environment. It’s in those initial steps that hopefully we can cultivate people who know and care and are willing to truly have a relationship with their place. But it starts with curiosity and learning and growth.

Where did you see God at COP? Where did you find hope?

Protests were a daily sight.

People found ways to use their voices other than speaking. The Quakers had an open church with some artwork in it. I went in and it was a bunch of old ladies who were putting together a quilt. On the quilt pieces they were showing what they love about their environment and wrote a little statement underneath about what they were doing in the work against climate change. I was excited to hear their stories about where they’re from. All these old ladies were just singing and so to be able to sew in solidarity with them was beautiful. It was in the life and laughter of these women that I could see hope and care and love in action.
In Les Mis, the one line that I always remember is “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and I can see that in their love for the world – knowing them I was able to see God.


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