COP26: Together across faiths, for climate justice

1 Nov 2021
Religious leaders gathered for an interfaith service at Garnethill Synagogue on Sunday 31 October. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert

Religious leaders gathered for an interfaith service at Garnethill Synagogue on Sunday 31 October. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert

Religious leaders stand united as COP26 gets underway

(LWI) – COP26 is underway, and as the conference officially opened, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) joined religious leaders from a range of faiths and traditions gathered in Glasgow to express shared, urgent calls for climate justice. 

Convening at Garnethill Synagogue on Sunday, religious leaders from no less than 10 different religions gathered for an interfaith service and Talanoa dialogue session to share experiences and discern ways forward as faith communities look to support the continued efforts for mitigation of the global climate crisis. 

More than 200 people attended the event – either onsite and online – which was intentionally modelled as an effort to ensure voices from all over the globe, and not just those able to physically be in Glasgow, can be heard. 

Through the Talanoa methodology, the event provided space for discerning key advocacy messages for the two weeks ahead, as various religious groups will seek to push climate negotiators for action. 

Deep justice issues are at play as the world grapples with the impact of the climate crisis, as the poorest and most marginalized people around the world continue to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, while they are at the same time the ones least responsible for causing that same crisis.

At the same time, with the recent release of major data assembled by the IPCC ahead of the climate negotiations in Glasgow, the world is currently on what UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has described as ‘a catastrophic path’ of global warming not projected to stay near the Paris accord’s target of keeping global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

 LWF/Albin Hillert

'UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021' reads a sign at the venue of the United Nations climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow.

The science is clear: to stand a chance at achieving the 1.5-degree target, the world needs to halve emissions over the next decade and reach net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. Even at a 1.5-degree increase, global warming will have severe effects on ecosystems, human health and well-being across the board, but if urgent action is not taken, it is projected that the world will instead be facing an increase in temperature of as much as 3.2 degrees, with disastrous consequences to follow. 

So the importance of mobilizing people across all faiths and no faith, across all sectors of civil society to push governments to take action urgently can hardly be overestimated. 

COP26 is understood as the most important COP meeting in a long time. It takes place after the conclusion of the first five-year cycle outlined in the Paris accord from 2015, meaning it is the first time nations submit progress reports on the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) they have committed to, and more importantly to up ambitions for the next cycle ahead. 

 LWF/Albin Hillert 

Rabbi Ephriam Mirvis, chief rabbi of Orthodox Judaism and the Commonwealth opened the events at Garnethill Synagogue, speaking passionately about faith engagement for climate justice as a ‘sacred act’.

Nora Antonsen from the Church of Norway is one of 32 youth delegates representing the LWF at COP26. She observed the power in standing united across multiple faiths in addressing climate change, and speaking up for climate justice. 

“When I see that people of different faiths – who often in media are portrayed as people who do not understand each other well because of their religious differences – stand together like this it gives me a new hope for the world,” Antonsen reflected. 

 LWF/Albin Hillert

Nora Antonsen participates in a Talanoa dialogue session on Climate Science in Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow.

“We all care for our brothers and sisters, and climate justice is a really big part of that. And that gives me hope and motivation for the future, that actually people of faith can be a motor and accelerator in the work we do for climate justice both at international, national and local levels,” she stated.

 LWF/Albin Hillert

The United Nations climate conference currently taking place in Glasgow has been described as a make-or-break moment, as world leaders are assembled to report on progress vis-a-vis the commitments laid out in the Paris accord and, it is hoped, further commit to ambitious action to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the world.

For Rev. Mari Valjakka and indigenous Sami pastor from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland – an LWF member church – spoke about relations to the native lands of the indigenous peoples around the world, and how this relationship is crucial to the way we take action on the climate. 

 LWF/Albin Hillert 

Rev. Mari Valjakka, an indigenous Sami and reverend in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland shares a word of prayer and reflection during an Interfaith service in Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow, held on the opening day of the United Nations climate change conference COP26 with representatives from more than ten different religions.

“Our homeland is not wasteland waiting to be exploited,” she said. As indigenous peoples we believe we have the wisdom of how to live at peace with our planet. Please, let us share this wisdom,” she urged. 

Shahin Ashraf, head of global advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide, continued to stress the urgency of the current situation. “The challenges we face will be many, but I tell you brothers and sisters, the opportunities will be equally as many,” she reflected. 

 LWF/Albin Hillert 

'My extinction was not a choice but YOURS is!!' reads a placard worn by a young girl dressed as a dinosaur at George Square on the opening day of the United Nations climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow.

On the question of what we want from COP, the answer is we want the money, we want the plan, we want the economy, we want distribution and we want justice, she said. 

And the voices of faith communities have been expressed clearly in Glasgow from the outset. 

Earlier on the Sunday, an interfaith vigil convened hundreds of religious leaders at George Square in central Glasgow, where a joint statement was shared urging governments to put the Paris agreement into action, and join in ‘collective prayer with all those who are working for a successful COP26.’ 

 LWF/Albin Hillert 

Interfaith vigil held at George Square on the opening day of the United Nations climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow. The vigil gathered representatives from a wide range of religions as well as people of no faith to collective pray for all those working for COP26 to be a successful meeting in mitigating what will otherwise be further development towards a climate disaster. The religious leaders shared a joint statement urging governments to put the Paris accord into action.

Bishop Mark Strange from the Episcopal Church in Scotland, who joined both the vigil and the interfaith panel at Garnethill reflected: “We are all here to be activists and to push the point, but this all also affects us. I want you all to reflect on how this all affects you. It does matter, what you do.” 


LWF photos from COP26 are available for download free of charge at the LWF online photo archive.  

Photos from COP26

By Albin Hillert


The LWF participates in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 12 November. This engagement is part of the communion’s ongoing focus to strengthen climate action and advocacy at all levels. Young people are vital agents of change and form the greater part of the LWF’s delegation to COP26.