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Published on 16 December 2021

Campaigns and Activism Officer, Meg Raybould, shares the story of how making paper boats in churches played a key role in the climate movement for COP26.

Last June we set sail for COP26 – At the time, the waters ahead were (and remain) choppy, but thousands of you navigated them through prayer and action. It all started in the aftermath of a disappointing G7 summit in Cornwall, with people in churches across the UK writing their prayers, hopes and calls for action on origami boats, which we’ve used to get the attention of world leaders.

Image credits and information i
A group of YCCN members standing on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral Credit: Robin Prime/ Christian Aid
A group of YCCN relay walkers outside St Paul's

Inspired by young Christians

Your boats were inspired by the Young Christian Climate Network’s (YCCN) pilgrimage across the UK. These young Christian’s journeyed across the UK – leaving the G7 in Cornwall in June and arriving at COP26 in Glasgow on the eve of the summit, covering an incredible 1200 miles and spreading a message of climate justice to everyone they met along the way.

They carried with them their own boat, representing that whilst climate change is a storm that affects us all, we have very different boats, and therefore aren’t affected equally.

Setting sail for climate justice

Inspired by YCCN’s pilgrimage, churches from all over the UK began creating small paper boats that made a big statement. It was incredible to see people of faith, from all ages and from as far afield as Canada and Australia joining the movement.

By the time COP26 took place, almost 30,000 boats had been created. Each and every one adding to the pressure on world leaders to rise to the moment at COP26.  

“These boats are a way for our voices to be heard in the corridors of power” – Deborah Mallett, Bristol.

Not only were your boats used for political pressure, but they were a great vehicle to help people reflect on the injustices of the climate crisis, to find their own voice and agency in responding, and to engage their wider church community. All of which will be incredibly important as together we help build a stronger climate movement for years to come.

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Anchoring in Glasgow

Around 10,000 of your immense fleet were taken directly to Glasgow for the COP26 summit and were displayed loud and proud at various locations across the city.

Local artist, Lorna Gallagher used them to create beautiful artwork. Lorna built 3 ships, covered in your colourful prayer boats. The bases are made from recycled and reclaimed wood, including boat parts such as masts, and sails.

During the fortnight of COP26 we invited faith leaders, activists, local politicians, COP26 delegates and more to come and see the artwork and read your prayers, whether at Glasgow Cathedral, Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church, or at Lorna’s art studio on Dumbarton Road (one of the busiest streets in Glasgow).

During COP26 thousands more prayer boats were also displayed in churches across the UK enabling people across the UK to connect in hope and prayer for COP26.

And at key events and services during the week, your prayer boats were handed out to attendees to hold, connecting the prayers and people across the UK, in a moment of reflection and unity.  

Showing the fleet to political leaders

Art can be a brilliant and beautiful way of getting attention and a form of gentle and thoughtful protest. The boats made sure that key decision-makers directly heard your voices.

But we didn’t stop there. We took your boats directly to Number 10 Downing Street and handed them to the Prime Minister ahead of COP26.

We also created photobooks, with pictures of your boats, and messages from hundreds of you and sent them to the Prime Minister, the COP president Alok Sharma, and other political leaders.

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Handing in prayer boats to No.10 Credit: Meg Rayboud/ YCCN
Handing in prayer boats to No.10

Making a lasting impact

There is still a lot of work to be done to move forward for climate justice, but your prayer boats brought joy, colour and hope to COP26. They sent a clear message to leaders - now is the time for climate justice.

As we move forward from COP26 we continue to pray with hope and determination.