Darlene O’Leary (top right in photo) is coordinator of Martha Justice Ministry for the Sisters of St. Martha, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. She works with Sister Marion Sheridan, CSM, NGO liaison for the congregation. Darlene writes about her recent experience as a virtual delegate to the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow.
This November, I had the pleasure of being part of an ecumenical (virtual) delegation to COP26, the UN Climate Conference hosted this year by the United Kingdom and held in Glasgow. The delegation was sponsored by the United Church of Canada, an official delegate, and For the Love of Creation, a Canadian ecumenical group that works on climate and ecological justice. As coordinator of Martha Justice Ministry with the Sisters of St. Martha, Antigonish, I was so grateful to be encouraged and supported in taking on this responsibility, which took a full two weeks of my time and focus.
In my role, I am blessed to work with the sisters and all of our colleagues doing education and advocacy for social and ecological justice. This involves work in our local community of Antigonish, in the Atlantic Canada region, and in national and international networks. I’m able to be involved in poverty eradication work, in reconciliation and Indigenous justice actions, and in work for climate justice and love of creation. In this work, I’m grounded in the charism of hospitality and in a deepening sense of integral ecology. I was able, I hope, to bring this grounding with me as a member of our delegation.
Our delegation included members from across Canada and across denominations. Each person brought unique perspectives to our group, as we shared in the experience, many of us for the first time. We also each brought our communities, who we represented and worked to bring into the daily events and activities of COP26, through our newsletters and blog posts.
Being part of our COP26 ecumenical delegation was an intense and valuable learning experience for me. It was a window into the process of a large multilateral event, with the many speeches, commitments, negotiations, and activities, inside and outside of the official schedule. As a delegate, I felt like a witness to an important moment in history. This COP was considered a last hope for the world to limit temperature rise no more than 1.5C. We are already experiencing the climate crisis around the world, as those who have done the least to cause the crisis – those who are poorest – experiencing the worst of the impacts. It was our responsibility to hear and amplify the voices of those who were left out, those from the global south who were either not able to get to Glasgow due to lack of vaccine equity or financial support, or those who made it, but still weren’t allowed in.
While our delegation worked each day to connect with partners on the ground, we listened for highlights from world leaders, particularly Canada, to see if they were responding with urgency to the climate crisis. We wanted to see more ambition to reduce emissions faster, more commitments to a just transition and to centering Indigenous peoples and communities, and more financing for those in developing countries already struggling as the climate crisis intensifies. We saw small steps, but we needed to see leaps forward.
Even though world leaders and negotiators lacked the urgency we need, the youth, faith communities, Indigenous groups, and civil society organizations taking part were truly inspirational. The commitment of people from around the world, the calls for justice, for inclusion and equity, for structure change, and for love of creation were so strong that it was clear the leadership is coming from the grassroots.
I was so inspired listening to presentations by groups like Indigenous Clean Energy from Canada, already taking the lead on a just transition. I celebrated Catholics at COP, the Laudato Si’ Movement, and the many ecumenical and interreligious movements that came together, shared petitions, walked in pilgrimage, and prayed together. What a spirit of hope, solidarity, and love of creation that was expressed and shared! What a witness to justice!
I hope that COP26 was a moment of change for this planet, perhaps in ways we don’t yet see. I know that our delegation and the thousands of people that participated in COP26, will continue on with the work for climate justice. I pray that we all find a way that we can share in care for creation.
Read the comprehensive report on COP26 from Sister Teresa Kotturan, SCN, Sisters of Charity Federation NGO representative to the United Nations