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Looking to UNCOP-26




Bishop Philip Huggins, 30 July 2021. 

As part of our multifaith International Liaison Committee (ILC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that I will attend later in the year, I have been asked to prepare some thoughts on the Culture of the UNCOP’s. This is for a Webinar in September and as we continue our preparations for COP 26, beginning on October 31. (The green logo right, is a draft as we finalise a new Logo in coming days.) 

I offer these thoughts for consideration and include a little on the situation in Australia, because the success of this upcoming COP is so crucial to our survival.


Culture can be described simply as the way people behave with one another in a particular context.

As colleague, John Hendry says, "it is the relational behaviours clustered within a context.” (John Hendry, "Geelong Grammar School ‘s Culture of Kindness and Forgiveness".)  

The culture of an organisation shapes overtime as people think, speak and act with one another.

Somewhat mysteriously, the culture of an organisation can be carried forward even while different people come and go.

Once a certain culture is established there needs to be a conscious intentionality if it is to change. 

Cultural change tends to be more complex than just stating the obvious or promoting a new strategy. As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. 


I have learned these realities the hard way, having worked some decades trying to help the Australian Church and Society reflect the divine purpose and our human potential, made as we are in the divine image and happiest when a holy people! 

I have come and gone from many organisations, some healthier than others largely because of the character and competency of leadership, times past and present. In these various settings, I have prayed to be part of the solution and not part of the problem!


I went to COP25 innocent of any previous direct experience of COP Culture. The motto on the walls said what seemed obvious. "Time For Action.”


What happened at COP25 in Madrid did not deliver on that statement of the obvious.

Why not?

Will it be any different at COP26? Since COP25, I have been involved with quite wonderful people of faith, nationally and internationally, who are devoting this period of their lives to successful climate action. There is beautiful enthusiasm amongst faithful folk in Glasgow and the UK as they plan their gracious hosting of COP26.

But those closest to the preparations for COP26 and more familiar with the nature of COP culture, speak distressingly of how little progress is being made. How can this be when the evidence of catastrophic climate change is now even more vivid?


Many people will have answers to this question. Obviously, international relations are between nation states who are competitive and have unequal power in relationships. Transactions aim to maximise gains and minimise losses. Those with the most power don’t want the rules of the engagement to change that power relationship.  

As one negotiator said to me at COP25, the negotiations are like a long poker game. Everyone at the table is trying to guess what others will offer; not wanting to reveal their hand prematurely and thus to give more than may turn out to have been necessary. 

“What is leading us humans towards disaster is the fact that we have trapped ourselves into acting within the unreality of a self-orientated adversarial paradigm…we humans, in general, assume that a competitive oppositional mode of behaving is not only what is natural but even the ‘modus operandi’ that is necessary and most productive in our relating with ‘the other’. We humans are, for the most part, so accustomed to the oppositional (‘going against others ‘) as our normal ‘modus operandi’, it is only when our adversarial actions and/or words have led us to a crisis point we tend, at our best, to have recourse to a diluted form of dialogue to solve the impasse…” (Ian Mills ‘A Climate of the Heart: Only Relatedness can save us.’ Jubilation Books,2019). 

Well, we have reached that place where the centuries of intense adversarial action against each other, at every level now threaten our very existence. 

The climate crises intersect with other crises- millions of displaced people looking for refuge from hideous dictatorships and from various religious and ethnic aggressions; a global pandemic which has meant months of exhausting crisis-management and reveals painful inequities in terms of health systems and access to vaccines. (“End COVID for all” continues to be our motto and purpose). 

Meanwhile, with all this going on, it is harder to hear the cry of our non-human companions on the planet as they face or are extinguished. 


But before we consider what new quality of cultural dialogue might help at COP, it must be said that our country of Australia embodies, in its political culture, much that is regrettable. 

Notwithstanding our various efforts, less than 100 days from COP26, the current Government is internally conflicted over even the most minimalist and mediocre of climate policies.  

The Federal Government cannot even bring themselves to say, unambiguously, ’We commit to Net Zero Emissions by 2050’. 

The Environment Minister travelled the world last week to lobby other Governments to avoid the listing of the beautiful Barrier Reef as an endangered World Heritage site. This, while it is completely obvious that climate change is, and will, completely destroy the Reef.  

That the Minister considered her effort a political triumph is its own cameo of what I heard about Australia’s climate policies at COP25- ‘selfish and stupid’. 

And COP25 was even before the unprecedented bush fires of the following months. 

I have been amidst two earlier massive bushfires in southern Australia. I have felt the fear; smelt the burnt animals; buried people incinerated with a garden hose still in their hands. Governments that do not act to prevent more such suffering are worse than useless. 


What to do so as to improve the COP culture, given this brief analysis?

With awareness of these realities, at COP25, young and old faithful souls tried to provide different spaces for dialogue, along with symbolic actions.     

There were new forms of Dialogue Space offered. Some of us organised a Retreat to provide kindness and peace to diplomats and negotiators.  

(The best of these folk knows what is happening to our planet; and how urgent is the implementation of the Paris Agreement but they must operate as bidden by national political leaders. This is very stressful, and they need loving understanding).  

Many expressed their gratitude for this “Retreat” initiative but were too time- poor at the COP to give themselves this recuperative space. The intensity of detail around negotiations and the number of meetings led to their apologies. The capable and decent Australian diplomats and negotiators were preoccupied by the late arrival of a Government Minister.  



Looking back on our efforts at COP25, they seem to have been in the right direction. However, the existing COP culture of huge issues to be negotiated in a few short days and in an adversarial, competitive framework meant the culture well and truly ate our strategy well before breakfast!  


What now?

Clearly, a corollary of this analysis is that a higher quality of sustained listening- dialogue is necessary: A quality of stillness and listening that encourages a feeling of trust; a non- oppositional process that gives a sense of equality as together we reach agreement on next steps. 

During the days of COP25, I arrived early and sat quietly where I could pray for the various participants as they arrived for morning meetings. This seemed the most useful contribution I could make and led to some illuminating conversations. 

Looking ahead, ideally those in leadership must give us the feeling that their “heart is one with all living beings”. 

A culture of this quality of relatedness is what will bring the Paris Agreement through to a better outcome for our planetary life. 

In Australia, through the NCCA, we have been led to initiate local conversations towards “A More Loving, Forgiving and Understanding Culture”.


The leading has come from wonderful people of diverse disciplines and backgrounds, including First Nation leaders, who see the need for healing and who want to help create a culture where we all choose to heal and not to harm. 

The underlying assumption is that. though there is urgency as regards climate action, a more sustainable, safer and happier future requires this careful and patient relational work. 

Can we accomplish cultural change fast enough to prevent catastrophic climate change? The next years are crucial. As wise ones convey, whilst what we can do may seem insignificant it is nevertheless crucial that we do it. 

Life can surprise us. People are praying and meditating for a successful UNCOP 26. Much good work proceeds out of sight . Inspirational leadership is needed and may emerge unexpectedly.  


It is important to have this conversation. I hope my few reflections are helpful. In conversation we may discern other initiatives we can take, even yet, to improve the culture and thus the outcomes of COP26. 

Meanwhile, having shared a Draft of these Reflections with friends who contributed much to our Retreat and Dialogue initiatives at COP25, we have agreed that it is important for us to persist. 

In my tradition, this accords with the persistence in prayer that Jesus encourages. 

Sometimes it takes a while for new initiatives to find their place and be offered in the best manner. 

We will see if we can do better at COP26. 

What doesn’t change is our wanting to love, understand and encourage those who gather as diplomats, negotiators, officials, and Ministers. 

They are inheritors of this culture, as are we. 

COP26 is an event of momentous, historic significance.  

We can but offer what is ours to give. 

…I say my prayers where we have a statue of St Francis, given to me after helping with an Interreligious conference.  

With St Francis is one of my home-made painted signs and a picture of our beautiful planet. 

It may be that you also have such symbolic aids to prayer and meditation which you can share. 

Perhaps we could put together a collage in the days to October 31 and the beginning of COP26.

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