A silent vigil has a special power. It confronts without being confrontational and affirms the better world that is waiting to emerge. Whether it’s a single person or hundreds, a silent vigil is internally strengthening and externally potent.
As the COP26 negotiations entered their final days, Quakers in Britain called a silent candlelit vigil for loss and damage. We asked the faith community and supporters of the Make Polluters Pay campaign to join us. We planned to hold our vigil outside the exit of the restricted ‘Blue Zone’ of the COP26 negotiations, but the police had other ideas. They moved us along to an area almost out of sight of the venue, over a road on a bridge crossing the Clyde River. It wasn’t the visibility we hoped to have. It was an echo of the way in which calls from climate vulnerable communities for loss and damage financing have been ignored for over 30 years.
In spite of this setback, the vigil was a powerful moment of togetherness and movement building. Our message was clear: “We are people of different faiths and none holding a silent vigil for everyone around the world who is living with the impacts of climate breakdown, known as ‘loss and damage.’ Please use your voice at COP26 in support of a loss and damage fund. Climate change isn’t just in the future, floods, wildfires and drought are already destroying people’s homes, lands and livelihoods. Fossil fuel companies caused this crisis and they must pay for the damage. We need an international loss and damage fund now!”
People we had only recently met answered our call and stood alongside us. We also saw relationships we had been building in the run-up to COP26 come to life and deepen. The vigil wouldn’t have seen the turnout it did without two years of interfaith movement building beforehand.
How did we get there?
Rewind back to late 2019, shortly after the UK’s Presidency of COP26 was announced: Faith for the Climate and the Environmental Issues Network of churches convened a meeting to discuss forming a group that would coordinate UK faith action in the run-up to COP26. From the start, Quakers were a core part of this group, Make COP Count – and as the work developed, we increasingly led on shaping the group’s shared advocacy work.
In summer 2020, we proposed to the group that loss and damage should be one of our key priorities for advocacy and campaigning work. The group was united in feeling that as faith groups, our role was to speak out for justice, and that loss and damage was a key part of this.
How faith communities took action on loss and damage:
Over the year or so leading up to COP26, Make COP Count members raised the issue of loss and damage finance with Parliamentarians, officers in the COP26 Unit, and in a meeting with COP26 President Alok Sharma. We briefed senior faith leaders and published briefings for MPs and people of faith. Many of us signed the Make Polluters Pay declaration and supported Loss and Damage Awareness Day, which Quakers helped to plan.
The faith community was part of a much bigger wave of civil society action which helped push loss and damage to the forefront at COP26. In 2022, we at Quakers in Britain will be continuing to support faith leaders and communities to raise their voices for this crucial pillar of climate justice
Quakers are a faith group committed to working for equality and peace.