By the time you read this we will all probably know whether anything of significance has been decided by the great COP 21 climate change conference in Paris. And whether any decision actually achieves anything may not be known for many decades. But we are happy to say that Alison and I played our part. Way back in August, we mentioned that A Rocha had been invited to get involved with a Christian presence at COP 21. If you are inclined to think any faith involvement sounds irrelevant you might want to remember that one of the biggest encouragements to those concerned about climate change was the Pope’s encyclical over summer, and one of the biggest obstacles is the obstinacy of many American Christians to consider that climate change is a serious issue. Faith matters.
So along with our colleague Jean-François Mouhot, Chris has been heavily involved in preparing A Rocha’s involvement for months. Frankly, it has been an enormous labour: Chris reckons he has received well over 2,000 emails to do with COP21 and probably sent out the same number.
With Alison volunteering to help with organisation, we took the train to Paris last Thursday afternoon in time for a meeting with other members of the A Rocha team. We then walked through a Paris still full of police and armed soldiers with a definite ‘don’t-mess-with-us’ look about them to an ecumenical service at Notre Dame Cathedral that, surprise, surprise, focused on climate change.
Friday was our day to visit the COP21 site at Le Bourget by metro and free shuttle bus. Security was tight with an airport-type baggage search and scan. Once inside the huge space that was the Climate Generations Area, there were hundreds of stands, talks and discussions going on. As always with these sort of environmental gatherings there were people in sweaters and jeans who clearly did get their hands dirty in the environment and ‘suits’, impeccably dressed men and women who very definitely didn’t. COP 21 also had a new class of people: ‘suits’ with bodyguards. Chris discovered a workshop on Mediterranean ecology and made some useful contacts there.
In the afternoon A Rocha hosted a panel discussion, “A Climate for Change: Conservation and Faith” at the site. The four speakers included the eloquent atmospheric scientist Dr Katharine Hayhoe who has been called “perhaps the best communicator on climate change” and listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2014. (She lived up to her billing.) There was also the charming Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, Bishop Efraim Tendero, who spoke of practical issues of climate change in his own Philippines. Rev Dave Bookless, A Rocha International’s Director of Theology and Caroline Pomeroy the Director of Climate Stewards also contributed. There must have been 70 people there: it was definitely standing room only.
Saturday was the big day. Jean-François and Chris had organised a conference “A Christian Response to Climate Change” at the Anglican church of St Michael’s, not far from Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées.
We got there at around 8:30 and there was a feverish 45 minutes of setting everything up before we started. To summarise the day: we had several introductions and welcomes, eight talks, a series of workshops, two coffee breaks, lunch and evening meals, two short worship slots, a panel discussion and a short closing comment by the doyen of French Protestant theology, Professor Henri Blocher. Somehow we finished on schedule at ten in the evening and no one seemed to complain. And just in case organising this wasn’t complicated enough, we also had to arrange for continuous French /English translation and we to provide our own security.
Given that we had organised it all from a distance it ought not to have worked. But it did. We are delighted to say that everything came together astonishingly well and we attribute that to prayer, preparation and an awful lot of hard work. If we were to list everybody who helped this blog would be much longer but particular thanks ought to go to the Rev Alyson Lamb who is the vicar of St Michael’s, a church that we would heartily recommend if you’re in Paris on a Sunday.
Chris gave an introduction to A Rocha, ran a well-attended seminar on “God, geology and climate” and took part in a panel discussion as well as taking several hundred photographs. Alison was involved in all sorts of “behind the scenes” things.
And on the Sunday? Well we returned to St Michael’s as worshippers and then wandered in a rather fatigued fashion around Paris. Monday we took the train back to the south.
So COP 21 is behind us (see the video on A Rocha’s website). However A Rocha’s involvement was so successful that a new item has now been tentatively inserted into our digital diaries: COP22, Marrakech, November 2016. Anybody want to help organise it?