Member of the WCC delegation at COP28, 12-year-old Faith Sebwa advocated for the inclusion of children with disabilities in climate discussions


COP28 was the first climate talks in which a CEO of a large oil corporation took over the presidency—and this set the stage for lowering some expectations. There was also a record number of representatives from the fossil fuel industry in attendance—four times higher than the previous COP.

“However, to everyones surprise, the very first day of COP28 delivered a massive win by securing a Loss and Damage Fund, despite not enough commitments and pledges by the governments so far,” said Pillay.

At the heart of the COP28 negotiations was the culmination of the first-ever global stocktake” under the Paris Agreement, focusing in particular on fossil fuels.

COP28 had to extend by an additional 23 hours to reach a consensus on this issue, and included in its call a goal to transitioning away from fossil fuel by 2050 and to accelerate action in this critical decade.”

After nearly 30 years, this is the first time a COP decision has explicitly named fossil fuels.

“Nevertheless, the outcome fell short of a full phase-out of fossil fuel,” said Pillay. “With COP28, there is much to lament.”

Members of the WCC delegation on the first day of COP28.

Part of the WCC delegation on the first day of COP28. From left to right: Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, Presbyterian Church USA, Athena Peralta, WCC staff, Rev. Henrik Grape, WCC staff, Joy Kennedy, United Church of Canada, Manoj Kurian, WCC staff, Rev Chebon Kernell, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, Julia Rensberg, Church of Sweden, and Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, WCC general secretary.


Yet hope as well

And yet Pillay noted points of hope as well. 

To protect childrens lives and humanity, the WCC has called for a legal framework to combat climate change disinformation.

In a submission to the Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court on 14 December, the WCC urged the creation of a better legal framework to address climate change disinformation. 

The main goal of the submission is to save childrens lives,” said Pillay. In summary, the WCC submits that the limitations in the current international criminal framework contribute to the problem of impunity for deliberate acts of disinformation that imperil hundreds of millions of people globally, especially members of vulnerable communities.”

Pillay also noted that COP28 saw developing countries like Colombia leading the way in endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Other countries such as the Netherlands have agreed to cut subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”

Pillay noted that these are successes to be celebrated. “Notably, faith voices have strongly campaigned for these critical initiatives,” he said. “COP28 also witnessed a greater presence of the faith communities with several references and acknowledgement to us in various official COP documentations.”

At COP28, the WCC also reiterated that faith communities have a moral imperative to address water-food-climate justice, reimagining a world in which climate action policies help create a habitable world for all.

The Faith Pavilion was a first of its kind, enabling faith communities to unite and anchor themselves on the COP28 floor. 

Future visions

In the future, Pillay said, this process may continue with a much broader partnership and collaboration with all faith actors, including the WCC, which has been actively engaged in all climate talks since COP1 in Berlin in 1995. 

Children were supported by the WCC and partners as they raised their voices. A powerful message was conveyed by a 12-year-old hearing impaired girl from Kenya, underlining the importance of including people with disabilities in climate solutions strategies.

COP29 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2024. “As faith communities, we must step up our ambition for phasing out fossil fuel and our continuous effort to keep the global temperature rising to 1.5C from the pre-industrial levels,” concluded Pillay. 

Protect children’s lives and humanity: WCC calls for legal framework to combat climate change disinformation (WCC news release, 19 December 2023)

Ellyanne Chlystun-Githae Wanjiku to COP28: “listen more to children” (WCC interview, 13 December 2023)

WCC special page on COP28