Thursday, December 1, 2011

Official Observer: Day Four at the UN Climate Change Forum

Being an official observer at something like the UN Climate Change Forum is not an easy task. I was invited into this capacity by the World Council of Churches as one of their credentialed delegates. Even though Mennonite Church Canada is not an official member of WCC, given Canada’s apparent weakening commitment to addressing climate change, they were eager to have another Canadian Church leader present.

As an official observer I have been attempting to witness as many proceedings as possible. Sometimes I pray for the negotiators. Sometimes I stifle a gasp. Sometimes I breathe deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes.

Today seemed tougher than others. The negotiations are feeling fragile. Commitments are replaced with debate. Yet country after country pleads for concrete and immediate action. The big economies hesitate. The suffering countries are growing impatient. “We need something that will guarantee our future,” pleaded Bahamas, “with the rising sea levels we have already needed to remove a community.”

Being an observer eats away at hope. Your role is to watch; to be a witness. To report what you are seeing and hearing.  But silently carrying the weight of apparent apathy in the context of imminent disaster is exhausting. “God have mercy,” I say and take a deep breath.

But as people of God, we see things that others may not notice. We know that the Spirit of God is active even in what may appear as hopeless situations. I needed to be reminded of that today. So as a gift from God, I noticed an event at the end of the day hosted by the global youth delegation. I decided to go, and I saw the Spirit of God at work.

I observed a young teen South African girl stand before negotiators from Brazil and Norway and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  She chastised them for risking her future and her dream of raising a family in a healthy environment. “We must focus on the future,” she said, “because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.”

She acknowledged the economic dynamics influencing the debates. She recognised financial costs needed to address the situation. Then she paused and with the resolve of a seasoned negotiator said; “We need you to make the biggest decision of our lives. Forget about the money you have to save, you are in a big debt already .... You owe this to us!!”

The room erupted in a standing ovation.  I breathed deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes. This time I was overcome with worship. I had observed the Spirit of God at work – and my hope was revived.

“Thank-you Lord,” I prayed. Being an official observer can be such a gift. I can hardly wait to see what I will observe tomorrow!

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