COP26: Why should Christians care?

(Photo: Unsplash/Markus Spiske)

It's the equivalent of New Year's resolutions, isn't it? We make them with unbridled enthusiasm, completely accepting that part of this process is that we will fall hopelessly short and smile at our naiveté a year from now. But having the ideals feels reassuringly saintly – as though wanting to be better already makes us better.

It's COP26: the countries signed up will all, among other commitments, bring their 'nationally determined contributions' (NDCs) pledging to reduce their emissions by a certain amount within a set time frame – their New Year's resolutions, if you will, laid out in a virtuously responsible way.

No one, not even me, really believes I'll manage the couch to 10 mile challenge and clear the clutter from the back of the cupboard this year. And no one believes that the well-intentioned numbers put forward will be achieved. They're wishful. Sweetly ambitious. Trying to show you care by sending an e-card instead of actual flowers.

This may be the crux of it: the only real motivator we respond to, most of the time, is fear. We want to eat more healthily. We want to be fitter, kinder, calmer. But without accountability and the fear of some very real consequences, I think we will fail and not care very much that we have.

So what motivates the leaders of countries? It's mostly likely fear too. Industry, economy and the collective will of the people hold sway. And the fear of backlash, disapproval and replacement looms large as the stick that threatens. Perhaps, as Christians, we would do well to bring some of that old 'fire and brimstone' down to bear on any failure to uphold the promises and commitments made on our behalf - treat them as binding covenant vows, rather than passing lofty ideals.

In other words, there should be tangible ramifications – ensuring that everyone involved is appropriately and properly afraid. It would be this steady pressure that keeps the eyes and feet moving towards the organic, carbon neutral goal.

Because when they sign us up as a country, they sign us up - you and me. The numbers should impact your life. If it's not, then the accountability stick is called for – holding those responsible, responsible.

You can't be the cheerleader here – you have to be the coach. And the player on the field. And the sub. OK, you can be the cheerleader too, but you need to be engaged in the active task of holding to account. Which is frankly, most of the time quite boring: asking motivating questions of your school, town council, local government and MP. Making noise. Drawing attention.

You can switch off your stand-by pilot lights and recycle that yoghurt tub, but it's too little to make a real difference now. So if you have limited caring bandwidth and time resources, re-deploy them where they can affect change by pressuring the people who can force us all into creation care by whatever legal means necessary.

The small gestures: the drip feed – it's too late for that. It's the time for wholesale reform, in uncomfortable ways. Time to follow up on things that will make our lives more uncomfortable and expensive, which will probably mean sacrifices elsewhere.

So why should you care? Because the small print of COP26 should be what our future holds for us. And if it isn't, then we're doing something wrong. We shouldn't care about COP26 – 'caring more' is for New Year's resolutions. We need to engage in order to equip ourselves for the job of accountability and enforcement.

Staying on the couch is obviously an option. But the doctor has been clear that time is not on our side.

Chantelle Baker is a poet, teacher and writer.