COP26 Has Failed Many, Says Reverend Bhagwan

“That way we were able to support each other, share information, collaborate to bring issues to the attention of the international media and international community. We hope to build on this in 2022.”
15 Nov 2021 18:40
COP26 Has Failed Many, Says Reverend Bhagwan
Reverend James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches and Maureen Penjueli, Co-ordinator Pacific Network on Globalisation, at the University of Glasgow during the Oceans of the Pacific Commissioner event on November 9, 2021. Photo: Rosi Doviverata

Pacific Island representatives who have worked hard behind the scenes to amplify the lived realities of Pacific islanders are deeply disappointed.

Despite the many heartbreaking stories they tell, leaders in developed countries still don’t get it.  

Even the science that supports what the future holds if action is not taken, is still not convincing enough.

On Saturday night (Glasgow time), the softened language of the final COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact about coal and fossil fuel was a slap in the face yet again for vulnerable countries.

In fact it will not change what developed countries do at least for the next few years.

Initially, the draft had proposed  to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. 

Instead the final agreement stated “efforts towards phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.

Secretary-General of the Pacific Conference of Churches Reverend James Bhagwan has been to several COPS.

Glasgow is his fourth

After the final document was released last night, he said: “I am deeply disappointed, even though I had kept my expectations low going into COP26 following comments from G7 and G20 pre COP. 

“But the hard work of negotiators and leaders from our region and other climate vulnerable countries gave me hope. 

“Despite the little wins on Loss and Damage, climate financing, attempts to keep 1.5 alive, and Oceans… this COP has failed many, particularly in the softening on coal and fossil fuel. 

“We need to work harder, together to keep our polluter vuvale on notice to keep their commitments from becoming just rhetoric.”

In an earlier interview, Reverend Bhagwan made the following observations.

Empty Seats

“The COVID-19 pandemic and cost of travel and accommodation has made it very difficult for participation from the global south. 

“Empty chairs at the table and empty mats on the floor. 

“The pandemic has more than halved the number of Pacific delegates at COP26 and their absence has been keenly felt. 

“There are fewer of us to attend crucial negotiations and remind diplomats of the urgent need to act now to safeguard Pacific Islands and cultures. 

“However, the small number of Pacific delegates at COP26 are working together and deeply aware of the duty we have to present and future generations of Pacific peoples, we will make sure their voices are heard.”


“The most important members of any delegation are the negotiators. They work on the key texts and outcomes, particularly the negotiators who work on Loss and Damage. 

“It is widely known at COP this year that for every Pacific negotiator there were 12 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. This year the negotiators included expert Dr Siobhan McDonnell who has been battling not just for Fiji, but the Pacific in this space for some time.  

“The negotiators were spread quite thin so it was important to have them. I understand other young negotiators from Fiji acquitted themselves well, despite the odds.”

Role of the Church

Q: The role of the church and youth participation, how different has it been this year compared to the other COPs you’ve attended? What are some lessons learnt and made a difference this time around?

A: “Faith communities have been in this space for a very long time, since the first COP, 27 years ago. They play an important role in both advocacy, informal dialogue and pastorally as well. 

“Within the Faith space we are able to work with faith leaders from the global north to help bring pressure on their governments. So this is an area of partnership. 

“This year Pacific Conference of Churches had preparatory meetings and consultations with regional and international Civil Society partners well before COP26. 

“That way we were able to support each other, share information, collaborate to bring issues to the attention of the international media and international community. We hope to build on this in 2022.” 

Collective Partnership

“Both Fiji and Samoa had important roles as chairs of the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Small Islands Developing States group. 

But all three Pacific islands leaders had key roles to play as well as the various Pacific high level political Champions as well as envoys from the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Niue, FSM, Solomon Islands etc. 

“It is the collective partnership and strategy in working together with consensus in groups like OASIS and G77 and CVF that is important to get real movement.”

Are We Doing Enough?

“We are not being listened to by Australia, our closest major polluter and fossil fuel industry promoter? With Pacific Island States holding a key place in the Indo-Pacific strategy, we need to seriously consider the true nature of Australia’s relationship with and position in the Pacific vuvale if they are not really honouring the spirit of vuvale and Pacific Regionalism.

“For the Pacific, there is no gap between our rhetoric outside and our actions inside the negotiating room. Our few negotiators are working hard, but unfortunately it’s not the Pacific leaders or those from the global south who need to hear this, but the polluters from the global north who need to make concrete commitments to new and equitable climate finance and mechanisms on Loss and Damage.

“But what we also need to see is how the energy and messages of the rallies and marches translate in to the social and economic transformation that is required to embody the Nationally Determined Contributions and commitments to keep us under 1.5 degrees” Edited by Jonathan Bryce


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