Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations (ACOUN) - Environment and Sustainable Development

Copenhagen and After By the Rev. Jeff Golliher

This article by Jeff Golliher, is from 'The Episcopal New Yorker' newspaper. He discusses his experiences at the Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, and his general disappointment with its inconclusive ending.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was difficult. I was there, heading a delegation from the Office of the Anglican Observer at the U.N. Our group included members from developing and least developed nations, where the impact of climate change has already been severe.

There were days in Copenhagen when we thought the whole conference might tail apart. Quite honestly, the measure of success for governmental representatives seemed to be whether they could agree to be in the same room together. But, while this is sadly true, it’s not the whole story.

First, I should say mat the problems in Copenhagen were not the result of any lack of involvement by non-governmental organizations, including the churches. I’ve been to many U.N. conferences. This one had the best informed and organized participation by citizen's groups by far. No church was better represented than the Anglican Communion. Among grass roots organizers, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu played a prominent leadership role. The issue was "climate justice." Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke eloquently about climate justice, faith, and the problem of fear at a standing room only event in Copenhagen Cathedral.

Despite the impression given by much of the media, debates about the reality of climate change (and the environmental crisis) played no significant part in the negotiations - nor should they have. Details about the science can reasonably be debated, but not the implications of the larger picture. Even an official report on climate change issued by the U.S. government during the last administration says as much. In Copenhagen, the issue was not whether the crisis is real, hut how profoundly serious it actually is. Rather than denying the scientific facts or the economic roots of the crisis, governmental delegates plunged into the heart, of the matter - not very far, but they still plunged. No one had to convince them that carbon emissions must be reduced. They were grappling with how to get. from where we are now to where we want to be, which is another way of saying that both God and the devil arc in the details.

That was the good news from Copenhagen. The reason no agreement on emissions was reached was that there is no consensus on what kind of world we want to create. "We" is the key word here. 'There was one exception, murky as it was: Our delegation was troubled by the conference's inability to come to terms with the necessity of "capping" (read "regulating") carbon emissions, on the one hand, and its nearly universal endorsement of carbon "trading" (read "free markets"), on the other. This was seen most clearly in the one agreement that received widespread support among member states. The agreement - called "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries"(REDD) - is a financially lucrative system of carbon trading, similar to derivative trading, that may not actually reduce carbon emissions or deforestation in any significant way.

My point is that. a lack of political will tells only part of the story. Another part includes genuine uncertainty about how to move the global economy in a sustainable direction - while yet another part is raw fear, greed, and the priority given to "my survival," rather than to "our survival." When we move through this crisis (assuming that we do), who will be the winner? That's the kind of question that shaped the conference. Yet, it would be a mistake to assume that this sad state of affairs applies only to the U.N. - as if "they" are to blame. Governmental leaders were voicing what they believed to be the majority opinion at home, which is where the church needs to be heard the most.

The negotiations are far from over. Rather than "winners" and "losers," we need a lot less carbon, and a greater sense of “us." This is precisely the spiritual gift that the Episcopal Church has been working so hard to nurture - a truly inclusive, morally just, and ecological vision of community. That's what we need to be doing. Quickly and urgently. We have no time to lose.