Paris Agreement: Be a citizen supporter

The United Nation’s climate negotiations are underway here at the Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. As the global community drafts roadmaps for achieving goals set in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, I’m again inspired by our shared responsibility to advance the rights of those whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the impacts of climate change.  

Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge to tell countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you support climate action.

With Tuesday’s announcement that Syria has decided to sign the Paris agreement, the United States is now the only country in the world not supporting it. This decision affects the air we breathe and the water we drink. It threatens the health and welfare of millions and it harms our ecosystems, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people on our planet.

Emboldened by the spirit of global collaboration and collective power, I am emailing to ask you to please join UUSC and our partners in letting the world know that we are committed to addressing climate change now.

Tell the countries committed to the Paris Agreement that you’re still in to take climate action: Sign the “I Am Still In” pledge.

From the frontlines of UN climate talks

It’s begun! The world has gathered for critical climate talks and to evaluate the implementation of agreements to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. UUSC and our partners are on the frontlines of this year’s Conference of the Parties (“COP23”) in Bonn, Germany. We’ll be sharing updates and opportunities to advocate for the rights of marginalized populations who are disproportionality at risk of losing their homes – and entire ways of life – due to our warming planet.

In true Pacific spirit, Fiji opened COP23 with a traditional ceremony, showcasing perhaps one of the most important Pacific traits that is at risk due to climate change. This traditional and cultural loss resonates with indigenous cultures worldwide.

Here are just two of the many startling details heard during one of the conference’s first panels, Disappearing Islands:

  • Two islands in the Solomon Islands have completely vanished and six more are experiencing coastal erosion.
  • The significance of #3. We are currently on a dangerous track to a 3 degree warming, which will result in a 3-meter rise in the Pacific sea level. We only have 3 years to reduce emissions to address pre-2020 emission targets.

UUSC and our partner are working with three communities in the Solomon Islands. One of those villages, Nuatabu, was swept away by a tidal wave in 2012. To this day, people are still living in despair in tents and makeshift shelters and have not received any government assistance. UUSC is helping Nuatabu and other villages with resources and advocacy for national and international action. 

There are many outstanding organizations working to confront these climate change threats, yet few groups focus specifically on the resulting human rights crises: the families forced to evacuate their homes, the villagers whose fresh water wells are rendered useless, the farmers who live in constant fear of losing their communities’ crops. Through our Environmental Justice and Climate Action Program, UUSC and our partners are developing community-led and human-rights based responses to climate forced displacement.

For instance, Chevak Native Village, home to 1,200 Cup’ik villagers in Alaska, is one in a multitude of affected communities where we are working for urgent action. Minimal government assistance has left villagers to cope alone with weather-related changes and erosion caused by increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost. But like other villages in Alaska, this community does not have the resources to deal with the barrage of ongoing climate issues.

I am honored by the opportunity to participate in COP23 and stand alongside our partners in advocating for climate justice. And, I am inviting you to join me in shining a light on how climate change is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized populations, multiplying their risks, widening inequalities and threatening their basic human rights and dignities.

We are providing updates from COP23 on our blog, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Please follow us and help spread the word that the global community has a responsibility to act TODAY to protect the needs of all, not just the most powerful.

One of the atrocities of climate change is that the people who are least responsible for this looming catastrophe will suffer — are already suffering — its worst consequences. They urgently need someone to stand with them. I’m hoping that will be you.

Celebrating the United Nations’ Promise of International Democracy

On this day in 1945, the Charter of the United Nations entered into force and with it, the world’s most meaningful and lasting opportunity to build a global democratic institution, in which all countries could have an equal voice.

Today, we celebrate this founding vision. In the midst of the largest refugee crisis on record, ethnic cleansing in Burma (Myanmar), conflict in Syria and elsewhere, and increasing global devastation due to climate change, the need to realize the United Nations’ promise is greater than ever. UUSC is calling on the U.S. government and all world nations to strengthen international democratic institutions and resist the siren call of nationalism and chauvinism which threatens our collective future.

A Shared Vision

UUSC was founded in 1939 to help refugees secretly evacuate from Europe as fascist regimes were driving millions of people into exile and laying the groundwork for the Holocaust and World War II. The founding of the United Nations in 1945 was meant to ensure that war, genocide, and forced displacement could never again take place on such a scale. UUSC has shared these values and worked with and through U.N. institutions and instruments to advance human rights ever since.

That legacy of collaboration continues today. From November 7 to 12, UUSC is traveling to Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (“COP23”). This annual convening, hosted by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), keeps track of global progress on implementing compacts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. The most important of these compacts is the Paris Accords, which 195 Parties to the Convention have signed and 168 have ratified, and from which the United States has disappointingly decided to withdraw.

Leveling the Playing Field

This year’s COP also marks the first time that a small Pacific Island nation, Fiji, will be presiding over the Convention. Fiji’s leadership at this meeting provides an especially important opportunity to amplify the voices of people who are experiencing the worst effects of human-induced climate change. COP23 will be a critical moment for UUSC’s partners in the Pacific and all those on the frontlines of the impact of climate change to confront the U.S. government for its ambiguous and immoral position on this critical issue.

“The people of the Pacific islands are impacted every day by the decisions that larger, industrialized nations and financial institutions make. But they have very little power and leverage when it comes to diplomatic negotiations,” says Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice and climate action. “The United Nations is one of the very few spaces where countries can enter on a somewhat level playing field, which makes Fiji’s presidency quite significant.”

Steps Backward

When the United States fails to honor its international commitments, it abandons its democratic values. The Trump administration’s plan to exit the Paris Agreement is only one example of how the United States has worked to undermine global cooperation, especially during times of increased xenophobia and isolationist rhetoric. Last week, the administration also announced its intention to withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N. cultural heritage agency. The White House’s previous budget proposals have likewise threatened devastating cuts to core U.N. institutions. Especially egregious, the Trump administration recently slashed its refugee quota to only 45,000 – the smallest share of the international resettlement obligation the United States has shouldered since its Refugee Program began in 1980.

International democracy means being accountable to the people all over the world who are impacted by one country’s decisions, regardless of where any person resides. The United States’ obligations as a world leader include supporting the global response to the refugee crisis, ending policies that actively contribute to climate change, and supporting adaptive strategies for communities on the frontlines of these crises that honor the dignity and agency of the people involved.

Expanding the Bounds of the Possible

The promise of the United Nations was that no national or governmental self-interest would come before the shared needs of the human community. Seventy-two years later, that promise survives. While the United Nations faces many obstacles to achieving its original vision, it remains the planet’s best hope for finding shared solutions that honor the needs and capacities of all Earth’s inhabitants, not just the most powerful.

UUSC and our partners still believe in the possibility of finding those solutions. “Our partners don’t use the term ‘climate refugee,’ for instance,” says Soqo, “because they know that there is still time to change what is happening to the planet. Doing so requires fundamental transformations to neoliberalism and colonialism and the other oppressive structures in which we relate to one another. But that doesn’t make it impossible.” On United Nations Day, we honor this wider vision of the possible. And we remember that the only way to get there is together.

An Update on Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund

On Friday night, August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Storm and brought with it deadly winds and rain to an area of the United States millions call home. Much of the Texas Gulf Coast has been impacted and communities in Louisiana and across the state of Texas are still coping with more days of rain. We’re holding all of those affected in our hearts and prayers and we are in touch with local Unitarian Universalists so we can meet the needs as they arise. To do this, we are joining with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on a recovery and relief fund.

Please give as generously as you are able. Half of all funds raised will go to at-risk populations served by UUSC partners and the other half of the funds will support Unitarian Universalist congregations and members of those congregations most affected by the storm. Those funds will be administered by a group of leaders in the UUA’s Southern Region, which includes the states across the southeast from Texas to South Carolina, and from most of Virginia to Florida.

Using their eye-to-eye partnership model, UUSC will work with and support local grassroots community partners on the ground in Texas serving at-risk populations who may not be able to access relief services and who are traditionally left out of mainstream response efforts. UUSC and their partners will work to bolster locally led relief efforts that are serving immigrant families, in particular young mothers and their children. As the storm passes and recovery begins, UUSC will continue to get updates and work with partners to ensure their needs are met.

Donate here.

Volunteer information

The Unitarian Universalist College for Social Justice (UUCSJ) has finalized their volunteer interest form to collect information about people interested in helping with the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Please note the questions specific to Texas disaster relief. In partnership with UUSC grassroots partners in Texas, UUCSJ is exploring where and how volunteers can be most useful once the worst flooding has receded. Once the pathways for action become clear, we can effectively support the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Texas in the months to come.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are focusing on Climate Justice, as Climate Justice Month comes to an end.

How a Tiny Alaska Town Is Leading the Way on Climate Change, Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen, April 18, 2017

 School in Kivalina

“By 2100, as many as 13 million people living in coastal regions of the US and hundreds of millions more people throughout the world could be displaced by climate change.”

Kivalina, Alaska is a small village in Northwest Alaska, with a population of 420 indigenous people. Located 70 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina is one of the most affected communities of climate change. The temperature increases have doubled in Alaska compared to the United States, and the Arctic Sea has evaporated by half in the last 35 years. In just 10 years, Kivalina will no longer be a place people can inhabit.

The people of Kivalina are mobilizing and planning. They are known to be self-reliant and have a lot of experience working with their communities and government. The article highlights more of the history of Kivalina and some of the work our partner, Alaska Institute for Justice is doing.

How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration, Jessica Benko, The New York Times, April 19, 2017

There are obvious environmental consequences to climate change, but the effects are manifold. Climate change leads to droughts, floods, food and housing insecurity, and famine. This then leads to both political and economic insecurity. While there is no official legal definition for what it means to be a climate refugee, in 2010, it was estimated that 500 million people would need to evacuate their homes by 2015 due to climate change.

The evaporation of Lake Chad has led to 3.5 million already being displaced. In Syria, 1.5 million were forced into cities because of a three-year drought in 2006. Other areas, such as China, the Amazon Basin, and the Philippines have also experienced the detrimental effects of climate change, displacing and even taking lives.

On April 29, We March for the Future, Bill McKibben, The Nation, April 19, 2017

Climate justice is being threatened by the Trump administration, but the reality is, climate justice has been a decades-long battle with each administration. The current climate-justice movement is being led by communities, farmers, scientists, and indigenous people. Those that are marching march for a multitude of reasons: pipelines, the labor movement, fracking, solar panels to other sustainable measures.

The United States is facing setbacks with the current administration, but the rest of the world is showing hope. Solar panel prices have dropped, wind energy is being used, and other countries are investing in renewables. People continue to march, protest, and resist in other ways, defining what the new normal is.

Check out related blogs and articles for climate justice month

Three-part series on composting, The Good Buy, April 18, 2017

5 Ways to #Resist this Earth Day, Green Peace, April 18, 2017

Making a Deeper Commitment to Climate Justice Month, UUSC, April 19, 2017

Executive Order on Climate Policy Rolls Back Protections

After months of rumors, Trump released his “Energy Independence” Executive Order yesterday, directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin rolling back environmental protections and policies, including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Under the Order, federal agencies are instructed to review “burdensome” regulations that prohibit the development of domestic energy production, particularly oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy; it rescinds and revokes the Obama administration’s actions on energy and climate change; and it requires the head of the EPA to re-write the Clean Power Plan.

Although the order does not mention the Paris Agreement specifically, this intentional weakening of the Clean Power Plan—which provided a roadmap for how the nation would meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28%—will directly impact U.S. compliance with the Paris Agreement targets.

Additionally, the order instructs the Secretary of the Interior to take immediate steps to lift all moratoria on federal coal leasing, placing an imminent threat to our public lands.

Along with his earlier order to weaken the Clean Water Rule, his proposal to slash EPA funding and his attempts to roll back clean car standards, Trump’s actions fundamentally violate the rights of U.S. citizens to live in a safe and clean environment and destroys the sanctity between people and their natural surroundings. Our fossil-fuel driven, capitalist system has far reaching effects, it is changing our entire global atmosphere to the extent that it is forcibly displacing people from their lands and from their homes. UUSC strongly opposes any actions that do not work to combat the effects of climate change.

This executive order is shortsighted and irresponsible. UUSC, together with our partners, will take public action by applying political pressure on the White House at every possible turn. Join us at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. on April 29 to demand environmental justice and climate action.