By Dr. Lorna Gold, Chief Executive at FaithInvest
Faced with a deeply troubling outcome of COP28, what should faith groups who care deeply about climate change and care for God’s earth do next?
Some may herald the outcome of COP28 in Dubai as a success. The fact that there was an outcome that mentions fossil fuels at all in this oil-rich exporting country, which is part of a block that still intends to ramp up oil and gas exploration, may seem almost miraculous. It is very important to look below the media headlines – so desperate to hail it a success – to understand that the only success here is for those who wish to delay tackling the root causes of the climate crisis. The greatest losers here, right now, are those whose small islands may not be in existence for much longer due to rising seas in the Pacific. In a dramatic turn of events, they were even denied their opportunity to even object in the final discussions. The chair abruptly closed the talks by banging his gavel before they were even in the room. It has left many shocked and deeply saddened at what lies ahead.
In many ways there is no surprise at the outcome of this COP. With 2000+ oil lobbyists having access, a chair of an oil company at the helm, and deep pre-existing conflicts within the global community feeding into negotiations, the fate of the negotiations was almost sealed from the beginning. The structure of the negotiations themselves, moreover, almost precludes direct discussion of key sectors that are at the root cause of rising emissions. It means that negotiations can focus on the outcomes (rising emissions, rising temperatures) but not galvanise action on causes (energy systems, food production, etc.). This bizarre logic has been in place since negotiations started 28 years ago and was copper fastened into the Paris Agreement, which makes no mention of fossil fuels – the primary cause of over 85% of emissions globally. It opened the door to all sorts of creative accounting where countries can continue to ramp up production and set them against future abatement (offsets). These off sets can even be based on technologies that are not even invented! The science has proven that such efforts simply deflect the need for urgent action and will never tackle rising temperatures on time.
The need to eliminate fossil fuels was not absent at COP, however. It was a major part of the wider discussion in the Faith Pavilion – a great space where faith groups came together to discuss real and meaningful actions to tackle the causes and impacts of climate change. It was reflected in the statement of over 2000 leaders from across the political, business, civil society, and faith world, which called for a ‘just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels.’ Over sixty faith leaders signed the statement. It was also reflected in the growing momentum for a new fossil fuel treaty that will directly tackle the production of fossil fuels in the same way the Montreal Protocol successfully eliminated CFCs or the Land Mines Treaty. The fossil fuel genie is out of the bottle now, and it is essential that the focus is kept on it after COP.
The official outcome of COP28 did not address this issue – though for the first time, ‘phase-out of fossil fuels’ is named directly. This is a ‘win’ in terms of the narrative of climate change in the sense that, finally, the cause of climate change is being named. Those who care about robust climate action must now grasp this victory – however small – and run with it to build momentum. It may feel like we are clutching at straws, but frankly, there is nothing else to hold on to right now in terms of the global climate policy framework. I believe that faiths can take a leadership role now in trying to galvanize action at a number of levels – where governments have failed.
As faiths, we need to come together now in the same spirit as the Faith Pavilion at COP28 in every country around the world and get behind key actions to support accelerated action on tackling the root causes of climate change. This starts with a process of listening and engaging at the grassroots by taking actions to build climate change awareness and education in all of our congregations. It means coming together to address our own emissions and collaborating on efforts to shift to renewable energy, such as Cool Congregations.
After this COP, I would propose two further key actions that are needed. The first is to look seriously at our finances and investments and to signal to our providers that we want to change how we bank and invest. Banks and investment houses are the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry, and after this COP, there will be nervousness about the future of fossil fuels. Faiths are major values-based investors and clients. By learning more about how to invest in line with your values, we can act as catalysts for a broader shift in how we invest in a sustainable future. FaithInvest has developed guidance and a new course in 2024 to help guide this process. The other thing all faith groups can do is to support the global campaign for a fossil fuel treaty. Given the challenge of getting fossil fuels meaningfully addressed in the UN climate talks, the time has come for a new approach that aims to focus attention on the primary cause of emissions. The time is ripe for this now, and the weight of the faiths could help galvanize momentum to make it happen.
Dr Lorna Gold is the Chief Executive of FaithInvest, having previously held the position of Director of Movement Building. She joined FaithInvest in 2020 and has more than two decades’ experience of engaging faiths on environmental, climate, and economic justice.
She worked at a senior level in Trocaire, the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland. She is a leading voice on faith-consistent investing in the Catholic Church and supported the Irish Bishops’ Conference to divest from fossil fuels in 2018. She is Chair of the Laudato Si’ Movement (formerly the Global Catholic Climate Movement) and a member of the Vatican’s Covid Commission Economics Taskforce.
Her books include New Financial Horizons – The Emergence of an Economy of Communion (NCP, 2011) and Climate Generation – Awakening our Children’s Future(NCP, 2018).