“One could sit back and say: ‘Well, you know, climate change is so complex and it’s literally a global problem, so let those that operate at a global level, the nations of the world, solve this problem, as this is nothing to do with me.’ WRONG, because the fact is the world is currently made out of seven billion individuals and it’s the collective greenhouse gas impact of all of us here that is actually what we are trying to deal with us.”
Christiana Figueres, 11 April 2016, Grantham Lecture.
Individuals make a positive difference. We just often never get the chance to realise, or be told, that we have. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place, at the right time, to hear how a group of pilgrims – my fellow pilgrims – made an impact on climate change.
Last November, I embarked on my first-ever pilgrimage. I’d never been a pilgrim before, which meant I wasn’t really certain of what I should expect.
This momentous pilgrimage took us on a journey from London to Paris. We walked more than 200 miles.
This epic feat was undertaken to attend the COP21 Climate Talks, which were held in Paris in December 2015. I walked with a group of inspirational people and together, we formed the Pilgrimage2Paris, a joint initiative by CAFOD, Christian Aid and the Church of England.
This ecumenical pilgrimage formed the start of a new breed of pilgrims: climate pilgrims. Our joint prayer and worship sessions were wonderful reminders of how we all share this beautiful planet. As we journeyed through communities, we were welcomed with love and open arms. All those we met promised to pray for us and the Paris Agreement.
I walked this pilgrimage for two particular reasons: firstly, to connect with nature and my creator. Secondly, to hand in a climate petition.
On arrival in Paris, we handed in the petition to Christiana Figueres, executive of the UNFCCC. The petition was written out on a long scroll, containing 1.8 million signatures, all supporting climate justice. Christiana Figueres is an extremely busy person, as I’m sure you can imagine. Yet she made time for us and she received our petition in person.
That moment was magical, because in it, I realised the power of the individual.
During a recent Q&A session at Imperial College, London, a member from the audience asked Christiana Figueres where she saw the role of the individual in climate change.
Her answer filled me with pure joy. She spoke about being given a scroll containing a petition.
This, she said, highlighted the power and determination of individuals.
My eyes welled up as she went on: “I was incredibly blessed and privileged, just one day before we began Paris, to receive a very long scroll, signed by 1.8 million people around the world. Saying: a), we want not just a Paris Agreement, we want an ambitious Paris Agreement and b), we are doing everything in our personal life to [play] our part in [combating] climate change.”
In my mind, I was just a person who had walked to Paris. I never foresaw that over four months later, Christiana Figueres would remember receiving the petition, let alone use it as her example of how individuals make a difference in this world.
I remember thinking back to the moment the petition was handed to her. She had those same tears of pure joy in her eyes.
After COP21, her open letter mentioned the faith groups she had met. I know now how much of an impact we had on her, as well as the positive impact and influence she had on us.
Christiana Figueres shared a simple, yet profound equation with us: more carbon = more poverty. By reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, by breaking free from fossil fuels, we will be able to reduce the amount of poverty within our own communities and in locations where climate change is already having a devastating impact.
The power of prayer, the power of pilgrims, the power of individuals – it’s real.