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Reflections on COP26: What Does Theology Have to Offer the Conversation Around the Climate Crisis?

Reflections on COP26: What Does Theology Have to Offer the Conversation Around the Climate Crisis?

In this report, a range of guest authors offer their reflections on the rich resources that spirituality can offer this most urgent of contemporary issues. (2022)

From 31 October to 13 November 2021, the world’s political leaders gathered in Glasgow for the United Nations 26th Conference of Parties, known more commonly as COP26.

Theos asked a range of climate professionals, activists, faith leaders, theologians, philosophers, and charity–workers to consider the climate crisis from a theological perspective, reflecting on the question: “What does theology have to offer the conversation around the climate crisis?” 

Their responses were published on the Theos website over the course of COP26, and are gathered here with additional reflections from Ma. Alejandra Andrade Vinueza, Claire Foster–Gilbert, and Ian Christie. Each contribution focuses on a different element of the climate crisis, reflecting the rich resources that spirituality can offer this most urgent of contemporary issues.

In chapter one, the philosopher Jonathan Rowson considers why we might view the climate crisis as a spiritual issue at all, pointing to the deep “stuckness” of humanity, and the profound questions raised by our current predicament around the nature of love, death, and self. In chapter two, Hannah Malcolm reflects on the feelings of grief that more and more of us feel in response to climate breakdown, and the recognition that our emotions are not morally neutral, but can guide our understanding of what should be valued and what has already been lost. 

Next, Ma. Alejandra Andrade Vinueza considers what we might learn from the indigenous theological traditions of the Ecuadorian Kichwa people, drawing on principles of relationality, common good, ‘enoughness’ and revelation to interrogate some of the mainstream assumptions of modern Western society – as well as noting the similarity between these themes and the wisdom of the Bible and the Christian moral tradition. In chapter four, Ben Ryan urges the West to rediscover moral courage, imagination, and hope that positive action is possible, especially reflecting on the most recent papal encyclicals as a basis for the “new settlement”. 

He is followed in chapter five by Clark Buys, considering the rich potential of the Bible to create communities of accountability that motivate and mobilise ensuring creation care – and in chapter six by David Nussbaum, reflecting on what a biblical vision of creation care might teach us today. 

In chapter seven, Rachel Lampard draws our attention back to the shortcomings of Global North assumptions to learn from the local perspectives of Pacific Islanders, while in chapter eight Alastair McIntosh considers how we might tackle the excesses of consumerism which lie at the root of the problem. 

In chapter nine, Ian Christie considers the nature of the climate predicament and why it is so hard to face and act upon, and notes the scale of the political challenge ahead, particularly in the United States of America. In chapter ten, Martin Palmer reminds us that faith groups earn their legitimacy to speak through practical engagement too, as one the largest investor groups on the planet. In chapter eleven, Claire Foster–Gilbert reflects the progress made at COP26, what is still required, and the power of asking for help. 

Finally, in the conclusion, Madeleine Pennington considers what sort of leadership might be asked of us all, as we tackle the formidable challenges ahead.

You can download the report here

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Photo Credit: VladimirYa / Shutterstock

Madeleine Pennington

Madeleine Pennington

Madeleine is Head of Research at Theos. She holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Oxford, and previously worked as a research scholar at a retreat and education centre in Philadelphia. She is the author of ‘The Christian Quaker: George Keith and the Keithian Controversy’ (Brill: 2019), ‘Quakers, Christ and the Enlightenment’ (OUP, 2021), ‘The Church and Social Cohesion: Connecting Communities and Serving People’ (Theos, 2020), and ‘Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief’ (British Academy, 2020). Outside of Theos, she sits on the Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations.

Watch, listen to or read more from Madeleine Pennington

Climate change, COP26 series, Theology


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