Friends gather for COP26

‘We’re not marching with a series of demands but actually walking with the questions and into the answers; seeing if we can learn from each other as we go.’

Quakers joined the crowds in Glasgow this week to stand witness at the twenty-sixth UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). While over 100 world leaders gathered at the Scottish Event Campus on 31 October, Friends travelled from around the globe to support the summit after months of preparation and solidarity. Quaker and interfaith pilgrimages convened at the city, culminating in a joint Pilgrims’ Procession on 30 October, organised by Extinction Rebellion.

Jonathan Baxter, from Glasgow Meeting, who co-organised the Pilgrimage for COP26, said that the two-week trek from Dunbar had been ‘a rich experience’ and ‘learning journey’. He said: ‘We’re not marching with a series of demands but actually walking with the questions and into the answers; seeing if we can learn from each other as we go.’

Participants from the pilgrimage attended a reflective workshop at Glasgow Meeting House on 31 October, after the Sunday Meeting for Worship. The three-hour session was divided between silence and reflection on the pilgrimage, and a session mapping how to take the learning forwards.

‘We’re thinking more regionally about our resilience as communities, and how we can work collectively to change the infrastructures, irrespective of what comes out of COP26,’ Jonathan Baxter told the Friend. ‘We hope the world leaders do listen and implement some of the changes needed, but we recognise that there doesn’t seem to be much evidence [of that]. We are definitely open to very good outcomes, but we are not naive. If the outcomes don’t materialise, we don’t want to stop there. We have actually galvanised and made commitments in ourselves; and we are going to take them forwards.’

One example of this, he said, is setting up a hub at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, where he is artist in residence. The hub will provide environmental resources for the local community. Meanwhile, the cathedral has committed to become net zero by 2030. ‘Other people are doing the same thing,’ he said, adding that institutions taking the initiative like this can drive significant change.

Meanwhile, Glasgow Meeting House held a programme of events, including a session with Young Friends from around the world sharing their climate change stories, organised by Friends World Consultation Committee (FWCC). Friends were also among those who joined a meditation and prayer vigil live-streamed by Interfaith Scotland.

Around the country, Local Meetings held the summit in the Light during Meeting for Worship with many displaying banners. Quaker organisations – including FWCC, the Quaker United Nations Office, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, and Woodbrooke – called on Friends to uphold the summit as the conference began. By worshipping together, they said, Friends could support the communities and activists in places most affected by environmental destruction, ‘who have for so long borne the brunt of the impact of climate change and been at the forefront of action for climate justice’.

The summit ends on 12 November.

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