COP26: Jesuit Superiors in Africa and Europe Concerned about Delay of Climate Talks

The leaders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa and Madagascar as well as those in Europe have written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing their concern over the postponement of talks on climate change, which were originally scheduled to be held in Glasgow this year from November 9-19.

In their letter dated November 9 but only circulated on Thursday, November 19, the leadership of the Jesuits notes that moving the 26th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to a later date in 2021 puts several governments at the risk of misusing funds otherwise meant for the climate talks.

The COP26 summit has been scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland from 1 to 12 November 2021 under the presidency of the UK Government, with assistance from the Scottish Government.

The conference was reportedly moved to a later date owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdown effects.

“We are writing with regard to the 26th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which was originally due to be held in Glasgow from 9-19 November 2020. It was postponed on account of the on-going COVID-19 global pandemic which is again resurgent across much of the globe,” the Jesuit leaders in Africa and Europe say in their collective letter emailed to ACI Africa November 19.


“We are concerned that the absence of this conference in 2020 will lure governments into diverting attention and resources away from climate change and towards the immediate needs of addressing the on-going pandemic,” they add in the letter signed by the British Provincial, Fr. Damian Howard, the President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, and Fr. Franck Janin who is the President of Xavier Network.

The Jesuit leaders further say, “While COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger to the health and security of the world’s people, climate change is no less of a pressing crisis. We are mindful of Pope Francis’ admonition in his 2015 encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, ‘Everything is connected.’”

They note that climate change is exacerbating the social, economic, and environmental harms that COVID-19 has unleashed, underscoring the need to keep a discussion around it live.

“Though mindful of the unique challenge of the pandemic, we emphasize the equal urgency of on-going international action to address climate change,” the Jesuit leaders say and go ahead to urge the UK Prime Minister to work towards ensuring that climate change talks remain in the 2021 agenda.

“We call on you, Prime Minister, as host of COP26 to make certain that climate change remains on the top of the world’s agenda even if COVID-19 has caused us to postpone the conference to 2021,” they say.

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The leaders add, “The pandemic has exacerbated the problems we face and made the challenges of yesterday that much more difficult to address tomorrow. Climate change desperately needs a strong advocate over the coming year. As host of COP26, we believe that you are uniquely suited to be that advocate.”

The COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Signed in 2016, the Paris Agreement sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

The Agreement also aims to strengthen countries' ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and support them in their efforts.

In their letter shared with ACI Africa, the Jesuit leaders urge the COP26 President to set an ambitious global agenda for next year’s conference and push national governments to be equally bold in their climate change policies.


They say that UK should take the lead in the global effort needed to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C.

The Jesuit leaders further urge the British Prime Minister to press for the inclusion of action on climate change into COVID-19 relief packages and social protection programs.

“COVID-19 has once again reminded us that the risks we face today increasingly have no respect for borders,” they say, and add, “While the pandemic is the ‘trans-border risk’ at the top of the global agenda at the moment, climate change and ecological degradation remain a clear and present danger to all of us.”

In their address to the summit President, the Church leaders say, “In the coming year, as host of COP26, you can be a vocal advocate for the environment, reminding world political and economic leaders that any and all COVID-19 relief packages must take account of climate change and include action to combat it.”

In the words of Pope Francis, the Jesuit leaders assert that everything is connected, and that “there are no purely social, environmental or economic crises that we face.”

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“Effectively combating COVID-19 and planning for the world that comes after the pandemic requires that climate change continues to have the attention of global policymakers,” they say.

Additionally, the Jesuits urge Boris Johnson to remind the leaders and peoples of the Global North that the burdens of climate change “fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the world’s poor and marginalized.”

“Together with Pope Francis, we want to remind you that it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who bear the brunt of climate change even though they have contributed least to this crisis,” they say.

In a separate letter to the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the European Commission (EC), the Jesuit leaders in Africa and Europe call upon Europe, which they say belongs to the largest polluters to renew its commitment to support developing countries in financing climate action.  

“At the COP 21 and the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015, European countries pledged to support developing countries to finance climate action. Europe needs to renew this commitment,” they said.

The second letter was addressed to the AU President Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of the Council of the European Union, Angela Merkel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

The Jesuit leaders add, “There are significant justice issues at stake here and it is the duty of those countries whose development has contributed most to climate change to take the lead in marshalling the resources to combat it.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.