Thousands of Catholics took to the streets of the UK to show their support for policies to halt climate change and reverse ecological degradation in a designated “Day of Action”.
In Glasgow, the host city of the 12-day Cop26 United Nations summit on climate change, many took part in a three-mile march which drew up to 100,000 demonstrators from all over the world. It was the largest of about 100 protests in the UK alone, with others held in London and other major cities and towns.
Many Catholics chanted and carried banners as they marched with such groups as Sciaf, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and Cafod, its English and Welsh counterpart. Others came as part of the Laudato Si Movement, which processed in front of a huge inflatable globe, or with Jesuit Missions or in parish or school groups.
They braved five hours of strong winds and driving rain to gather in Kelvingrove Park in the west of the city and walk to drum beats with thousands of other Christians through the city centre to Glasgow Green in the east.
A week before world governments agreed only to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal power, they wished to impress upon delegates the urgency to act before it was too late.
Cafod supporter Emily Murray, 20, from Reading, said visible action was essential because she believed the poor of the world were “already being oppressed by climate change”.
“I think people need to start acting while they still have time,” she said. “We need to slash emissions by half.
“More than ever, young people are really interested in climate change. If we leave it to the government, if we leave it to policy makers, they are not going to get it right. History is going to hold us to account.”
Ayaat Hassan, 17, attended the event with a large party from Notre Dame High School in Glasgow.
She said: “As the youth of today, we are the ones who are going to be most affected by climate change and we deserve to get heard. The politicians are not listening to what we have to say. It is very important for us to come out so they are forced to listen.”
Colm Fahy was one of 28 young adults to walk 52 miles from Edinburgh to Glasgow with Jesuit Missions on the “Growing Our Future” pilgrimage ahead of the conference.
He said he hoped that real change would come from Cop26. “Pilgrimages go to miraculous things, if we think about Lourdes and Guadalupe,” he said. “We think something remarkable could happen.”
Scottish Bishop William Nolan of Galloway also marched with the demonstrators. “It really is a case of make-or-break. We know what the problem is, we know what the solution is. Now is the time to do it,” he said. “I am very encouraged by what we call civil society, all the people who are here making their voices heard and who appreciate the importance of this. We have to do something now,” he said.
Passionist Fr Antony Connelly of St Mungo’s parish, Glasgow, said Catholics present were heeding social teaching on the environment developed since the pontificate of Pope St Paul VI and preached emphatically by Pope Francis.
“For us it’s an emergency,” he said. “We need to care. We need to love our planet again and we need to be loving those who are suffering the effects of climate change especially.
“It’s the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor that we are committed to. It is hurting those who are poor the most. I hope this will be a turning point. I would be very proud if it was but I am still praying for a miracle.”
The first week of Cop26, which brought together leaders of 196 nations, saw promises to reduce deforestation, methane emissions and burning coal in an attempt to limit global warming following warnings that if global temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees, significant climate events such as floods, droughts and rising sea levels will follow.
Alistair Dutton, chief executive of Sciaf, said the progress left him feeling “pretty optimistic”.
“The analysis of all the processes and pledges so far has us down at 1.8 degrees,” he said. “Now we clearly need to do more. We have got to hit 1.5 degrees but we have closed the gap enormously in just one week.
“That’s a massive turning point,” he continued. “This Cop has switched the dial in terms of ambition.
“I think that’s great but we also have to make sure we do it quickly enough. We need to do 70 per cent of it by 2030.”
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, expressed frustration later that the summit did not agree to proposed objectives, blaming its failure on the reluctance of major manufacturing countries like China and India to invest in cleaner energy.
But he said the summit had nonetheless “sounded the death knell” for the future reliance of such economies on coal power.
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