Kirk elder Tara Shannon reflects on attending the Conference of Youth at part of COP26

Church of Scotland elder Tara with her dog Kingsley.
Kirk elder Tara Shannon with her dog Kingsley.

Kirk elder Tara Shannon, 26, attended the Conference of Youth (COY) as an official delegate. Hosted by YOUNGO, the Children and Youth Constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the event took place from Thursday 25 until Sunday 28 October at Strathclyde University. Here Tara reflects on her experience and what climate justice means to her as a Christian.

Going to the Conference of Youth as an official delegate made me feel more hopeful that young people would do their best to continue this world. It's worth mentioning that whilst there are a lot of young people attending COP26 they are not allowed to speak. They can write reports but they can't give their opinions.

A highlight for me was listening to my friend Titilayo Adebayo who spoke eloquently about the situation in her home country of Nigeria. She said that many people there have huge day-to-day concerns, such as feeding their kids, so whilst they know the weather is changing and they are aware that the rainy season isn't as long, they don't know why as they have other more pressing issues to cope with.

As part of the Global South, these are people who have impacted the world least as far as climate change is concerned. Titi has learnt about the issues facing the planet whilst studying at Glasgow Caledonian University and she spoke so well about the challenges facing African countries that she has now been asked to speak at COP26.

Youth representatives came from around the world
Youth representatives came from around the world

She was also saying that in some countries people can't be activists: they can't ask for change, because they might be put in jail for doing so. They have to be very careful. In the UK we have the privilege of being able to stand up to our government. We can say what we don't agree with. The biggest thing I learnt from COY was that as someone who is able to stand up to my government, who can have a small platform, I should be doing my best to raise the voices of people who cannot do the things that I can do. Within the platform of the church I need to be able to stand up and say 'this is the story of my friend'.

Fundamentally in the Bible it says God gave us the planet and put us on it to look after the animals and we've just not been doing that. We should be looking after each other and every form of life on this planet.

Every action we take can determine whether we're living our faith out or not. I'm not saying overnight you have to stop using your car because we're in a society where that doesn't work, but we can take different actions. For Example you can stop using Coca-Cola products - it's not a necessity that you drink it and they have a large environmental impact. A lot of greenhouse gases come from meat products - and again I'm not saying stop eating meat completely, but we can reduce the amount that we eat each day.

We need to put pressure on our governments too. As a country we're not going to stop using cars if they're cheaper than buses and trains so if you make public transport cheaper, or free, it reduces pollution and it reduces fossil fuel consumption.

My faith has impacted every aspect of my life. What I want to say to the Church and people more generally is that every action you take is going to reflect on how you're remembered in history - if there is a history. We really need to act now because it looks like we're set for an increase of more than two degrees globally.

There's a racial and gender issue too- climate change will hit the Global South hardest and impacts women more than men. It's not just one issue here and a lot problems could be helped if we work together to reduce emissions and create a more equal society.