Yusra Shafi, Development and Peace’s delegate at the COP27 meetings in Egypt. Photo courtesy Development and Peace-Caritas Canada

Opportunity, frustration for COP27 delegate

  • November 19, 2022

For 21-year-old Development and Peace activist Yusra Shafi, being at the COP27 meetings in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, is “an incredible opportunity,” but sometimes an incredible opportunity to be frustrated.

“I do have a sense of frustration about how things have been going so far. I haven’t really seen a lot of decisions being made,” the fourth-year psychology student at the University of Toronto said at the halfway mark of the two-week round of United Nations-sponsored climate negotiations. 

Shafi isn’t there just to soak in the atmosphere or wave the flag for Catholic climate change efforts. She wants to learn, to connect with people and places suffering life-altering effects of climate change and to bring home from Egypt a message from the front lines of the battle to save the planet.

“It’s incredibly important for people of faith to be represented here,” she said. “To do whatever they can with the platform they have and to embed the spirit of advocacy in the teachings and in the opportunities that they present to their people. We all have to step up. We all have that moral responsibility to act as soon as possible.”

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada deputy director Luke Stocking envisions Shafi coming home with a message and with the energy the Development and Peace movement needs.

“One of our strategic orientations is renewing our movement,” Stocking said. “Within that, a priority of youth and young adult engagement.”

Shafi was chosen to go to Egypt by the ecumenical, Kairos-led For the Love of Creation campaign.

In addition to backing Shafi’s trip to COP27 (Development and Peace is a partner in the Kairos Christian social justice coalition), Development and Peace has ensured that Hanta Manana Rarivoarinoro of the Development Council of Andohatapenaka in Madagascar can attend the global climate talks. With Development and Peace’s help, the CDA has launched over 51 small projects in Madagascar, helping families cope with drought and flooding, improving farming techniques and installing solar power.

An old slogan Shafi heard from a Colombian representative attending the meetings in Sharm El Sheikh — “If not now, when? If not us, who?” — has become Shafi’s battle cry in Egypt. Which is why Shafi’s frustration isn’t just with the national delegations or even the oil and gas lobbyists who have flooded the meeting halls at COP27. She’s aware that not many Catholic dioceses or parishes in Canada have taken up the Laudato Si’ Action Platform — a Vatican-sponsored program of practical measures for Catholic engagement on climate change.

“We all need to step up. It’s not just a case of the Catholic Church or parishes. We all have a collective responsibility,” she said.

Stocking understands Shafi’s frustration with her own Church.

“On the whole, the Church in Canada has not adopted and integrated the message of Laudato Si’ in the way that those of us who really believe in its message would like,” he said. “Can we do more as Development and Peace? Sure.”

Stocking hopes when Shafi comes home she will speak to Development and Peace members, parishes, youth groups, even staff about her experience.

“People like Yusra, a lot of very talented, engaged young adults come to Development and Peace through educational institutions,” Stocking said. 

Handing the baton off to Shafi and her generation is how Stocking imagines Development and Peace will achieve its goal of “integral communities for integral ecology.”

For her part, Shafi feels she’s found both a home and a launching pad in Development and Peace.

“I was so incredibly prepared (for COP27), just equipped with the knowledge that had come from working with Development and Peace — carrying those perspectives forward,” she said.

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