Jesuit Missions: Faith, youth and women at COP26
By Lydia O’Kane
Millions of climate activists and groups around the world will unite on Saturday, 6 November, for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice to pressure governments and corporations to take action in order to deliver real solutions to the climate crisis.
In the Scottish city of Glasgow, where the COP26 Climate Conference is taking place, thousands of people are expected to gather in the city centre to make their voices heard.
Among the groups that will be marching with their feet on Saturday is the Jesuit Missions, the international development office for the Jesuits in Britain.
It is currently hosting a pilgrimage from Edinburgh to Glasgow that will culminate with pilgrims joining the global march.
Jesuit Missions is no stranger to the climate crisis, and has seen at first hand the devastation global warming can cause. Currently, it is involved in a project against human trafficking in the city of Darjeeling, India.
Due to rising temperatures and environmental degradation, thousands of tea gardens there over the decades have closed. Now, because these tea gardens are no longer in operation, thousands of families have been driven into poverty, and women are at severe risk of human trafficking. Jesuit Missions is currently working with a Jesuit Centre in Darjeeling helping to raise awareness and rescue girls from the scourge of modern slavery.
Lucy Gillingham is the International Programmes Officer at Jesuit Missions UK and is attending the COP26 summit. She spoke to Vatican Radio and gave her impressions of the conference so far.
“I started off, I have to admit, with quite low expectations of the COP26 …however, having attended the conference now since Tuesday, there have actually been some really great pledges; the atmosphere actually among the world leaders is very positive and I’m actually feeling really positive,” she said.
Ms Gillingham is just one of the millions of young people who is worried that it is people like her who are going to bear the burden of climate change in the decades to come.
However, despite these concerns, it is her faith, she said, that drives her “to care about all of God’s creation, particularly those who are most affected by climate change right now, such as people in developing countries.”
Role of Women
According to the United Nations, women are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they represent the majority of the world's poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources.
Statistics show that seventy per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 percent of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world's food production (50-80 percent), but they own less than 10 per cent of arable land.
With this in mind, the programmes officer stressed that it is important that solutions for climate change are focused around women.
The role of women has been highlighted at COP26. A panel discussion was held this week chaired by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, bringing together the all-female prime ministers of Bangladesh, Estonia and Tanzania.
Ms Gillingham noted that one of the key points to come out of the discussion was that because women are the most affected by climate change, they also have the most innovative solutions to combat it. Therefore, these women are making sure, she said, “they have gender-balanced cabinets and are listening to the voices of women.”
Over the last few years’ young people been at the forefront of the climate debate, calling on governments and corporations to do more to protect the planet.
Ms Gillingham emphasized that the pressure young people have put on world leaders to take action has had a big effect on their response to the climate crisis. But she also expressed her disappointment that despite the fact young people are protesting outside the conference itself, there have been a lack of young people inside.
While world leaders debate the best ways to tackle global warming, faith leaders are using their voices to raise awareness and look for practical solutions to curb rising temperatures.
But despite this engagement by faith communities, Ms.Gillingham laments that the spiritual dimension has been lacking at the discussions leaders are having.
“It’s very political, it’s very economic, it’s very science based but it’s not addressing that personal, individual, spiritual conversion that we all need to make in order to address the climate crisis," she said. She goes on the say that the power of prayer and pilgrimages go a long way in “spreading the word.”
Asked about her expectations of a positive outcome to the conference, she said that her hopes “have been raised” since the start of the summit. “My expectations are some strong action; enough of the pledges but actually to start implementing these changes.” If drastic action is not taken," she underlined, “then the alternative is really quite worrying.”