COP 22: Pushing global leaders to walk the talk!

cop22-logoCOP 22: Marrakech 2016

Two days into COP 22 and Marrakech, Morocco is swarming with various stakeholders from around the globe. This COP (Conference of the Parties), dubbed by many as the “African COP,” due to its location and the strong presence of the African diaspora, is focused on accelerating implementation of the Paris Agreement, which was ratified by 100 Parties, including the United States. The Paris Agreement, which went into effect November 4, 2016, is about the post-2020 timeframe. It’s about countries committing to do the best they can to reduce their emissions and to work toward keeping global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees celsius.

In 1994 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The COP is the governing body of the Convention and meets annually.

The Paris Agreement: One step in the right direction

The world broke out in celebration when the Paris Agreement was adopted last April, and we can still feel the momentum here in Marrakech. What has been exciting so far, is the expected outcome that COP 22 will produce a roadmap for how things will proceed, such as how the Green Climate Fund will achieve its mandate of reaching $100 billion by 2020, or how states will report their emissions and reductions, etc. However, whether COP 22 will actually produce something tangible, just, equitable, and sustainable is the concern of many civil society organizations, including UUSC.

The focus here so far has been on the Paris Agreement and its implementation. But what does this mean for pre-existing commitments such as the Kyoto Protocol and its Doha Amendment? Doha, which was adopted by Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Qatar in 2012, was meant to provide a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol—a legally binding emissions reduction treaty necessary for global climate action in the years leading up to 2020. However, Doha is still not in effect. If Parties are serious about Paris, they have to implement Doha.

Meena Raman and Salote Soqo in Marrakech, Morocco for COP 22.

Meena Raman, of the civil society organization, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, thinks that this might be a loophole that will allow developed countries to escape their existing commitments. She gave European Union as an example: “The E.U., which has not ratified Doha is racing like a Japanese speed train to ratify Paris. Have they forgotten about their commitment to Doha?” Which leaves us to wonder—where is the United States in all this? While the United States did ratify Paris, the state has no obligation to the Doha Amendment because it did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol (sigh).

Civil society organizations have to tell our leaders that the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and Paris Agreements cannot simply be subjects for coffee room discussions. Initiatives, pledges, and plans are not enough to deal with the catastrophic issues affecting Mother Earth and our communities. UUSC and the rest of the UUA delegates are joining our allies from all around the globe here in Marrakech to remind our global leaders to act out their commitments. An accelerated action on Paris Agreement requires the implementation of the Doha Amendment to Kyoto Protocol.

In solidarity with Orlando

UUSC extends its heartfelt sympathy to the victims of the horrible massacre in Orlando and their families.  The targeting of the LGBTQ community unites us all in a web of suffering and grief compounded by political and religious leaders who have stigmatized LGBTQ persons, thereby virtually inviting this atrocity.  Such violence will never end until those who employ religion in the cause of hatred are repudiated by religious leaders of every faith.

Rights Reading

Rights Reading is back! 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. 

1. “Dry Taps and Lagoons of Sewage: What America’s Water Crisis Looks Like,” by Zoë Carpenter, The Nation, June 8, 2016

“In Lowndes County, Alabama, thousands of people live with raw sewage in their yards or near lagoons of human waste. Only 20 percent of the county’s residents have access to municipal sewers.”

Zoë Carpenter cites the June 2016 release UUSC’s research report, “The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States,” a groundbreaking study that documents “the impact of rising water costs and inadequate infrastructure, which are putting millions of people at risk for shutoffs, illness, foreclosure, and even of losing their children.”

Carpenter further notes that “there is currently no federal statute or policy that ensures access to water for the poor.” In Detroit, tens of thousands of low income residents had their water shut off, while “commercial properties with tens of thousands of dollars in water debt were largely ignored.”

The Nation article also notes UUSC recommendations that U.S. government agencies establish affordability programs, ban water shutoffs, and collect more data about the shameful disregard for the internationally recognized human right to water in the United States. Read more about UUSC’s research report and its work to ensure access to clean water for all people.

2. ’Gays the New Jews’: African Media Homophobia vs. Twitter Empathy,” Charles King, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Huffington Post, June 8, 2016

Noting Amnesty International’s condemnation of the continued criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct in 38 African countries, Charles King believes “the role of the mainstream media in these so-called democracies has been inverted. It now fulfills the exact opposite role of what a healthy and vibrant media should play in a healthy democracy.

UUSC and its partner organizations have witnessed the betrayal of African LGBT people by powerful institutions, including government, religion, and the press.

Looking past these institutions, King notes “there is no toeing the line in the Twitterverse.” Even with homophobic and hateful messages tweeted by others, Twitter exists without a “gatekeeper journalist or media organization.” Therefore, non-journalists can tell their own stories, in their own voices.

King concludes that on Twitter, “non-journalists…have equal access to a democratic, complex, and unlimited international communication platform.” He urges them use this access to “move from ‘victim’/source in someone else’s narrative to become the powerful narrator of their own story.”

Click here for the latest news about the work of UUSC, its African partner organizations, and the LGBT individuals leading these grassroots efforts to advance their human rights.

The Invisible Crisis: Water unaffordability in the United States

waterreport cover
Click to go to the report.

New report finds access to safe, affordable water and sanitation out of reach for many Americans

Between 2010 and 2015, water and wastewater costs rose 41 percent, nearly five times the rate of inflation over that same time period. This has created a crisis of water unaffordability for many Americans, according to a new report released today by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).  The Invisible Crisis: Water Unaffordability in the United States, is a research report by UUSC that has been nearly two years in the making.

The report sheds new light on the breadth of the country’s water crisis, pinpoints drivers of inequality, reveals damaging impacts people face when they can’t afford or access basic water and sanitation services, and argues that real affordability programs can and must be established to ensure that all people in the United States have access to needed water and sanitation services. Read a summary of the findings and recommendations below and click the link to check out and download a PDF of the full report!

Summary of Findings

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No Universal Access to Safe Water in the U.S.

The report sheds new light on the breadth of the country’s water crisis, pinpoints drivers of inequality, reveals damaging impacts people face when they can’t afford or access basic water and sanitation services, and argues that real affordability programs can and must be established to ensure that all people in the United States have access to needed water and sanitation services.

For example, a lack of investment in water and sanitation services can lead to health and hygiene problems. Lower-income children of color without adequate sanitation facilities in Alabama, for instance, have contracted hookworm, a tropical parasite that is no longer commonly found in the United States. Additionally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 2 million Americans – many Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and those living in communities along the U.S. southern border – do not have access to complete plumbing facilities.

The Cost of Water

For many Americans, the problem begins before they even face the question of water quality – before they turn on the faucet. The problem begins with whether there is any water coming out of the tap and how much it costs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses median income to determine affordability when evaluating compliance measures, not whether the cost of services is actually affordable to low-income households. This means that the wealthiest Americans’ water service costs are often considered a negligible part of households’ budgets. Many people even consider water cheap. Meanwhile, low-income individuals and families are often left paying more.

Lack of Data on Basic Water Services

“The lack of data we have on the number of Americans struggling to afford basic water services is criminal,” said Roger Colton, an economist and principal of Fisher, Sheehan & Colton. “What we do know, however, is that the number is large and that rethinking the way that costs are calculated will not only benefit consumers, but utilities who will see more people paying bills on time under a more equitable system.”

Water Infographic
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“Water is essential for life, but universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation has not been achieved in the United States,” said Amber Moulton, the researcher in UUSC’s Programs, Advocacy, and Action Department, and co-author of the report. “Lower income Americans and those facing economic crises struggle to pay rising water and sanitation costs resulting in shutoffs and other negative consequences.”

In order to begin to make headway in making water affordable for all, the UUSC report recommends:

  • Banning water shutoffs for nonpayment when customers do not have the ability to pay. At a minimum, mandate protections against water shutoffs for low-income children (under age 18), individuals over 65 years old, persons with disabilities, pregnant and lactating women, and persons with chronic and catastrophic illness
  • Requiring regulatory agencies to study and work to remedy the impact of unregulated pollution on the cost of water and sanitation for customers
  • Prioritizing and targeting water and sanitation funding to those who do not have it and vulnerable populations first, followed by other investments as needed
  • Adopting the human right to water and sanitation in domestic law with clear enforcement mechanisms and remedies.

Hear from the authors: Listen to the June 7, 2016 telepresser.

Share on Social Media: Check out press kit to post on Facebook and Tweet on Twitter!

Press Coverage

UUSC & UUA Endorse Wendy’s Boycott led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

On June 22, The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and other organizations to protest Wendy’s failure to sign the Fair Food Program. Wendy’s is the last U.S. fast food chain refusing to guarantee an extra penny-per-pound in pay, along with more dignified working conditions for Florida farmworkers.

Led by President and CEO Bill Schulz, more than 50 UUSC protesters joined the UUA, Alliance for Fair Food, the Food Justice Ministry, Fair Food Ohio, and the Justice Action Ministry of the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio in picketing a Wendy’s restaurant in downtown Columbus, Ohio, coinciding with the UUA General Assembly held at the nearby Greater Columbus Convention Center. The action was followed by a petition delivery with close to 10,000 signatures to Wendy’s corporate headquarters, just next door to Columbus in Dublin, OH. UUSC’s Associate Director for Justice-Building Pamela Sparr noted, “Consumer action is the best tool we have now to pressure management to do the right thing.”

“With this program, the women who pick tomatoes to support their families no longer have to leave their dignity in the tomato fields,” said farmworker leader Nely Rodriguez, “Women now have a voice and a way to stop the harassment and abuse that has happened for too long.”[1]

Even today, Wendy’s still refuses to sign onto the Fair Food Program. Here are things you can do to pressure them to join the country’s other fast food restaurant chains:

McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Subway have all joined the Fair Food Program, which means that Wendy’s unfairly profits from a cost advantage over its competitors. Another way that Wendy’s has avoided responsibility is by moving to a new tomato supplier based in Mexico.

In April the Coalition of Immokalee Workers called for a “Month of Outrage” following an exposé in Harper’s Magazine that linked Wendy’s to Bioparques, an infamous Mexican tomato company prosecuted for slavery in 2013. According to the article, “Bioparques workers who spoke to [the Los Angeles] Times…described subhuman conditions, with workers forced to work without pay, trapped for months at a time in scorpion-infested camps, often without beds, fed on scraps, and beaten when they tried to quit.”[2] Instead of purchasing from the Florida tomato industry, which is setting new standards in human rights for farmworkers, Wendy’s has moved their purchasing power to a company rife with wage theft, sexual harassment, and child labor.

Florida farmworkers typically are paid at a rate of around 50 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes (Less than 2 cents a pound). An extra penny per pound in a farmworker’s paycheck can mean up to an extra $100 a week, raising their annual wages for their backbreaking labor from about $10,000 a year up to $17,000 – a significant increase, but still below the U.S. Federal Poverty Level for a family of three. In comparison, Bioparques workers earn between $8 and $12 a day.

Hannah Hafter, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Activism, who helped organize UUSC’s participation in the Columbus rally, is pleased with efforts to date, but believes there is much still to be done. “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has had unprecedented success in improving wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida. Yet rather than support the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has started to buy tomatoes from a company in Mexico known for slavery-like conditions for workers. We are proud to be in solidarity with farmworkers by endorsing the Wendy’s Boycott, and we consider the rally at General Assembly and the petition delivery to Wendy’s headquarters only the beginning.”




Join Us to Make Sure Every Home Has Safe, Affordable Water in the United States

Over the past year, a hidden crisis in the United States has become visible: we do not have equal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation. It’s a simple statement, but the consequences are serious and complex.  People who cannot afford their water bills are at risk of losing their home, their children, and their freedom. And more and more people are finding their water bills unaffordable. Between 2010 and 2015, water and wastewater bills have risen by an average of 41%. Even worse, certain populations and communities bear the burden of unequal access and the health and economic harms that follow. They include people of color, low income families, Native Americans, women, children, people living with disabilities, and the elderly.

UUSC is proud to be part of the ad hoc National Coalition on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (NCLAWater). In partnership with grassroots organizations representing some of the most severely affected communities – including UUSC’s partners, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise – we are holding our federal government accountable for their failure to recognize water and sanitation as a basic human right.

Our campaign is twofold: we are calling for executive action from the President of the United States, and we demand the passage of a new law on water affordability.

Sign up now to pledge your support for executive action and the NCLAWater legislation. Add your voice to the growing movement for U.S. recognition of the human right to water. Sign up to stay informed on breaking news and upcoming opportunities for action.


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