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Day #7: Copenhagen Delegation De-brief – Sunday, December 13

by Pamela Sparr (Consultant for UMW Climate Justice Campaign)   


Context for the day:
There are no official sessions today – the negotiators are taking a day off, although it is likely that there are private discussions and meetings happening behind closed doors to prepare for the second week of the negotiations that begins tomorrow. We see a wave of new people arriving. New government delegates and non-governmental organizations were lining up late yesterday and today to get formal credentials at the Bella Center.  And, many groups, such as ours, are ending their time here. So, today feels like the half-way point in a relay race where many are passing the baton.  In fact, the United Methodist delegation is doing that too, as the General Board of Church and Society team and our UMW team met over dinner to compare notes, share insights.

There was a rather unexpected turn of events on Friday when the chairs of the two main official working groups presented draft texts of agreements. This was much earlier than expected. Several country groupings have also produced draft texts so there is much to process and debate. One of the fundamental issues concerns what kind of legal framework will be used by all the participating governments. While in some ways a technical issue, it is also a highly political and philosophical one. The question on everyone’s minds, including our own is whether the U.S. will support the existing international legal structure or will seek to weaken or actually dismantle it.  There is great fear, particularly by Southern governments that the U.S. will undermine the Kyoto Protocol and that would be a huge setback to garnering a global agreement and effectively tackling climate change in a fair and united fashion. This debate, at least for the moment, is overshadowing the nitty-gritty issues of setting a target for capping greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation funding for vulnerable developing nations, and the other justice issues that our team has been tracking.

We began the Sabbath still feeling the excitement of the tremendous outpouring of people yesterday for the march to Bella Center – 100,000 reported. We were dismayed last night to see that in the U.S. news reports we checked, the focus was on the relatively few protestors detained rather than on the tens of thousands of peaceful people who braved the cold and long walk to express their desire for the negotiators to produce a strong and just binding agreement in Copenhagen.  . 

Highlights for Sunday
We began our day in Town Hall Square, a historic portion of town with lovely old buildings, clock towers and cobblestones.  It felt like we were in the crowd for a rock concert. The mood was very upbeat and friendly. Four extremely large flags from various church organizations were waving, camera crews were perched on scaffolding in the square, and music and a huge video screen entertained the crowd before the event began. This was the capstone moment for the Countdown to Copenhagen campaign that so many United Methodist Women have worked so hard this year to support. You were there in spirit!

While the UMW team arrived early so we could be close to the stage with our banner, the square quickly filled all around us. Our banner continued to attract the attention of photographers and well wishers from around the world.  Methodists from Norway who were part of a boatload of 1,200 Norwegian people of faith who arrived at the city dock this morning, greeted us.  A colleague from the United Church of Canada stepped up to talk with Esmeralda. A smart grid engineer who was part of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light said hello. And many young people wanted our C2C buttons.

We did not come to see Brad Pitt (who had his name emblazoned on a trailer saying he was working for climate change) or some other pop culture star, but one of the most beloved and respected religious leaders of the world – Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu was in fine form and worked the crowd with his winning smile, encouraging words, and flair for fine oratory. The crowd went wild when he arrived on stage. He announced that more than half a million signatures were collected by the campaign and presented a symbolic stop watch (the campaign logo) to Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC – the guy whose job it is to ride herd on all the governments and keep the process going.  

With the wonderful image of Archbishop Tutu doing a little jig at the end of his speech still in my mind, we made our way to the Lutheran Cathedral of Copenhagen for an Ecumenical Celebration for Creation. The church only held 900 and it looked like the standing room had been completely filled on all three levels of the sanctuary. The male and female religious dignitaries came in all colors, shapes and styles of dress from around the world. Opposite them were various secular dignitaries – possibly some of the Danish royalty, leading political figures, and a least one very well decorated military official. By chance, we happened to sit among Norwegian bishops – all Lutherans except one Methodist. The commitment of Norwegian Lutheran bishops was amazing – all of them came on the boat for the events today. The Lutherans were the only denomination and Norway the only country to turn out national religious leaders in such numbers.

Esmeralda and I both were moved by the procession of symbols of what climate change is destroying in terms of habitats and livelihoods.  One basket contained drought-shriveled cobs of maize from Africa. Another held black rocks with white stripes from Greenland – rocks that were laid bare by the melting of glaciers. A third basket contained a lacy piece of white coral from a Pacific island – bleached and deadened by warming oceans.  I thought of Tupou, our choir director, and wished she could be with us to hear the gorgeous voices of choirs from Africa, Greenland and Denmark perform in at least three languages. I was moved when we started singing my favorite UMC hymn, “Here I am Lord”. Given the state of the negotiations and where I am in my life, once again, it called to me in a deep way.  

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams gave the sermon.  The focus of his remarks was very appropriate for the mid-point of the negotiations. He talked of fear – how we as individuals tend to operate out of fear when it comes to climate change and the government negotiators are too. He said that fear – even if it not irrational, and even if it is not selfish, is still fear. As Christians, as people of faith, we are called to act out of love and compassion. This is our challenge, this is our calling.

With the cathedral bell beginning to toll 350 times, part of a wave of bell-ringing around the world signifying the important goal for greenhouse gas emissions, we processed out of the Sanctuary holding lit candles. We drifted out into the waning Copenhagen light, bearing the blessing of Archbishop Tutu who also was part of the service.  

Our time here has been physically intense – long days, cold and gray weather, missed meals.  It has been emotionally intense. It has required us to listen carefully and well. It has stretched us to grow new skills, learn new things and to be willing to ask hard questions. Our hearts have been touched.  It will take time for us to process all that this has meant for us individually and what this might mean for UMW. We leave, knowing that whatever comes next week, there is still deep, transformative work to be done back home. This work will not be easy. It will not be quick. It will stretch us all.  It is a time to grow spiritually and practically. It is a time to transform our selves, our congregations, our communities and our national policies.  Are we really ready to say “Here I Am Lord”?    
See pictures taken by Pat Watkins



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