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By Hannah Eves
Just over a week ago, I stepped away from the home working desk, put my walking boots on and with a stomach-churning mixture of trepidation and excitement set off, with the relay flag in hand, to begin walking on the Young Christian Climate Network’s relay pilgrimage to the UN Climate Summit COP26.
I led the London to Oxford section, walking for seven days, covering just under 80 miles, rambling across the countryside with people from different church traditions and creeds, in the name of climate justice. We stopped in sacred places along the way for hospitality, prayer and encouragement; we slept on church floors, shared a meal at a Quaker meeting house, and were hosted at the traditional pilgrim’s stop of St Alban’s Cathedral.
Our walking kept us grounded, the rhythm of putting a foot in front of another for hours, but we were also grounded in prayer, in fellowship, and in our belief in the urgency of the climate crisis. As I walked out of London, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published. The findings which hit the headlines that day were clear and harrowing: with every year of inaction, the hope of staying under 1.5 degrees (over pre-industrial levels) is slipping away and the effects will have a catastrophic impact globally, especially on the most climate-vulnerable countries, which also have the lowest emissions.
This is why we’re walking, because the climate crisis is at its core a justice issue. Our sisters and brothers overseas in climate-vulnerable countries are losing their homes and livelihoods, and we walk in solidarity with them. No country should be forced to go into debt because of climate change, and having COP26 on our doorstep is a unique opportunity for the church to challenge the UK government to take the lead on addressing this injustice.
We believe that fair climate financing is absolutely essential to this, and this is embedded in our four asks to the UK government ahead of COP26. We are asking leaders to, first of all, reinstate the aid budget to pre-Covid levels so that climate-vulnerable countries can tackle the effects of global heating, such as food insecurity, disease burden and displacement of peoples.
Second, to honour, and also double, the commitment made over ten years ago by rich countries to provide $100 billion in climate financing to help vulnerable countries to build resilience to climate change effects, protect their natural spaces, reduce greenhouse gases and move towards Net Zero.
Third, to lead on developing an international mechanism for addressing climate-induced loss and damage. This refers to the effects of climate change, which are inevitable and will continue to cause devastating damage to communities and livelihoods globally. There is currently no agreement on how to help the countries who have done the least to cause these effects.
Finally, we are asking the government to push for debt cancellation so that climate-vulnerable countries have the resources to confront the climate crisis. When climate disasters hit the poorest and most vulnerable countries, the cost of loss, damage and rebuilding often ends up pushing these countries further into debt, which is profoundly unjust.
This is why we’re walking, in the name of climate justice, and to tell the government that we will not sit by while this injustice goes on.
Following in the steps of our foremothers and forefathers in the tradition of pilgrimage, we also walk in faith. Pilgrims often end at sacred places, such as on the Camino de Santiago when pilgrims traditionally crawl, in reverence, into the cathedral at Santiago to complete their journey.
Is COP26 a sacred place? There is something that feels powerful and sacred in turning with prayer and hope towards that place, to Glasgow, and to our leaders, with our global sisters and brothers in our hearts.
We have many miles to go before we get to Glasgow and we’re still looking for walkers and volunteers of all ages to support the relay, so go to YCCN’s website to get involved. You can also make a difference by writing to your MP about climate justice; visit yccn.uk/political-engagement to find out more.