Fletcher Harper: Anglican priest activist pushing for climate justice at COP27

Rev Fletcher Harper

Rev Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and the executive director of Green Faith, a national interfaith environmental coalition, speaks at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh city in Egypt on November 16, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Ordinarily, most Anglican priests rarely carry the tag of an activist alongside their titles as they are known to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord.

For many priests, their work revolves around the altar and serving their congregation’s spiritual nourishment and rarely take part in any protest march.

However, at the just concluded COP 27 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt one priest took the courage to go against the grain and stand up for what he believes in.

Rev Fletcher Harper was easily recognised by the crowd of delegates wearing ties and matching suits as his white clerical collar remained distinctive in the conference halls.

Rev Herper who is the executive director of Green Faith, an international multi-faith climate justice organization, was in Egypt on a different mission.

"I formed Green Faith because as a religious activist I'm profoundly concerned and disturbed by the degradation and discretion of God's good earth. It hurts me to see people disrespect God by polluting the earth," said the 59-year-old clergyman who has been a priest for 30 years.

"I am offended because of the impact on the most vulnerable communities which suffer the worst impact of climate change in an environment degradation perpetuated by global North," said Rev Herper who was attending his ninth COP.

He said religious leaders who keep silent on matters of environmental degradation are committing a cardinal sin.

"Environmental silence is a sin, a wrong for the priest, imams, monks and dharma teachers. Those who shy away from the topic because they fear it has political dimensions should ask themselves whether this prevents them from speaking about hunger, poverty and war," said Rev Herper.

He said contrary to many COP27 is not an implementation COP.

“The rich nations came to Egypt to repackage their commitments.”

"The interest of Africa and other climate-vulnerable regions have been profoundly betrayed by this COP27."

He added: "It's now almost a decade since the wealthy countries pledged to commit $100billion every year in climate finance to help developing countries mitigate and adapt issues of climate change. This pledge has not been met. That is criminal and immoral."

He said the issue of loss and damages was supposed to be among the top issue on the agenda but the global North including the US unilaterally decided they will delay the launch of the fund facility by two years.

"That is not the way to honour a COP held on African soil. It is a betrayal of the host region, its wealth and its people."

At the same time, he was disappointed by the majority of nearly 200 countries who failed to submit new updated national climate commitments.

Fewer than 30 countries submitted their commitments.

"To me, the writing was on the wall that politicians around the globe particularly wealthy countries do not respect the poor and developing countries," he said.

He said another worrying concern at COP27 is the lack of willingness by the global North to directly name fossil fuels as the primary cause of the climate crisis and the urgent need to halt new fossil fuels projects to phase out existing production and to fund an equitable transition for impacted workers and communities.

"The inability and unwillingness by the international community to recognise that reality is a grave threat to the world's ability to meet 2° C as the goal for limiting global warming," he added.

He added: "The continued reliance on false solutions by powerful interests the idea that a voluntary carbon credit market will solve the problem is laughable because the vast majority of carbon credits are of low quality and don't achieve what they seek they claim to do."

"We must have an immediate end to fossil fuel development and equitable phase-out of the existing production. There's a need to have a timetable for countries that are most economically vulnerable to get a more generous allowance of time to phase out the use of fossil fuels because they have done the least to cause the problem and are most at risk from the energy transition."

To overcome this challenge, Rev Herper said developing countries should use civil societies to put pressure on the Global North to allow the poor nations with huge debts to use the debt money to build renewable energy infrastructures to meet the energy needs of their people.

"That is the kind of approach Africa should be talking about. Global North has made it very clear they are unwilling to fund climate energy transition."

He regretted that with no commitment at COP27 since the Paris agreement, the value of the COP has been diminishing every year.

"COP27 reminds me of a shopping mall and a trade expo. It does not remind me of a serious negotiation with real urgency and real seriousness of purpose," he said.

On the US role in the COP27, he said: "I'm appalled and embarrassed by the US role in a climate emergency. The US is responsible for the single largest emissions and ought to lead from the front not from behind. US need repentance."

This article has been published with support from a MESHA/IDRC grant


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