Coverage of UN Day ForumBy Alex Strimel, UNA-NCA Communications & Design Assistant
On Sunday, October 24th, UNA-NCA hosted an event on “Taking Action on Climate Change” co-sponsored by Unitarian Universalist Church congregations in the Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. The event featured panelists and experts on the climate change crisis in light of the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow that started on November 1st.
The program opened with a video featuring actor and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Environment Programme Aidan Gallagher, speaking on the significance of the Paris Agreement in implementing a more sustainable and eco-friendly global infrastructure. Following the video, Jill Christianson, Chair of the UNA-NCA Board of Directors, welcomed attendees and panelists, before sharing a special UN Day message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres providing an update on the present state and future trajectory of the United Nations in achieving global climate justice and an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Afterwards, Ms. Christianson shared a few words from President Joe Biden’s proclamation on UN Day. In his remarks the President notes that “the United Nations remains the most important form of its kind in advancing human rights, protecting the vulnerable and sustaining a rules based international order.”
After sharing these remarks, Ms. Christianson shifted the conversation to a more climate-centric discussion by highlighting the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describing humanity as being in the “code red” in regards to combating climate change. In conjunction with mentioning the report, Ms. Christianson provided a brief introduction of the Unitarian Universalist Church, the co-organizers for this event, and pointed out one of the foundational precepts of the faith, namely “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”
Ms. Christianson then introduced Tim Lattimer, Senior Climate Advisor at the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Lattimer is a key player in the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow and boasts an impressive career in environmental advocacy. Along with Mr. Lattimer’s experience in international communities such as Costa Rica, Panama and the Philippines, he is actively engaged in the local National Capital Area community and with the Unitarian Universalists Church.
Mr. Lattimer shared some opening remarks on the event, recognizing that the climate crisis is no longer a future problem but is here now and requires the cooperation of international and local communities. Echoing the call of the international community, Mr. Lattimer emphasized that in order to adhere to the goal of limiting annual climate change to 1.5 degrees we must be fully invested in implementing more comprehensive measures to combat the climate crisis.
In discussing the upcoming COP26 conference, Mr. Lattimer noted that along with the goal of determining what objectives still need to be met at COP26, the United States will be poised to remain consistent in its claims of actively reentering the international community. Of the numerous public figures expected to be in attendance, Mr. Lattimer notes President Biden and as many as ten cabinet ranking officials will be joining other world leaders in Glasgow this week to discuss the continuing challenges of climate change.
During the conversation with Ms. Christianson following Mr. Lattimer’s remarks she asked Mr. Lattimer “in the age of American exceptionalism, what kinds of challenges can be expected while reestablishing the good faith and credit of the United States in the international community and what kind of pushback can be anticipated leading up to COP26?”
To this Mr. Lattimer responded by saying that “it starts at home” and the nation must “walk the talk” to reestablish its credit. Mr. Lattimer also pointed out that “our challenge as diplomats is to determine where our national interests intersect” in order to work towards common objectives, making COP26 an integral moment in the U.S.’s efforts to rekindle international cooperation through diplomacy.
Ms. Christianson then posed another question to Mr. Lattimer, asking about how impactful local activism is in tackling large scale issues like climate change and whether or not climate change falls within the category of social justice. To this Mr. Lattimer responded by noting that activism in local communities is integral to the success of large-scale goals like climate change because “all diplomacy is local” and therefore requires strong domestic support. In regards to climate justice as being a social issue, Mr. Lattimer notes that historically marginalized communities are the ones disproportionately affected by the climate crisis making the fight for climate protection one closely tied to protecting minority communities.
Following their conversation, Mr. Lattimer provided a warm welcome to the evening’s moderator, Nate Hultman, Founder and Director of the University of Maryland's Center for Sustainability.
Mr. Hultman began his introduction of the panelists with William Barber III, the Strategic Partnership Manager for the Climate Reality Project. Mr. Hultman highlighted Mr. Barber’s extensive experience with activism in organizations including the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign and the Rural Beacon Initiative LLC.
Next introduced was Aly Tharp, Program Director of UU Ministry for the Earth, managing the denomination-wide Create Climate Justice Initiative. Along with her career in climate justice activism, Ms. Tharp is also an arts and cultural organizer and a food activist who works in her free time as a volunteer with the Festival Beach Food Forest.
Lastly, Mr. Hultman introduced Salote Soqo, Senior Partnership Officer for Climate Justice and Crisis Response at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Ms. Soqo specializes in work with frontline communities being affected by climate change and those that are displaced as a result of the climate crisis.
Mr. Hultman then invited each panelist to share their opening comments with the audience. William Barber III kicked off his opening remarks by commenting on where we are today in terms of climate justice. Referencing the late Martin Luther King’s Beyond Vietnam, Mr. Barber emphasized how King urged the nation to recognize that action rather than complacency is integral to the success of justice. These same words ring true today, according to Mr. Barber, as there is a fierce urgency of now, especially in terms of protecting those marginalized populations who are at the frontlines of the climate crisis.
This crisis, Mr. Barber notes, is the ultimate multiplier of every social disparity that exists today which could have devastating consequences for future generations. Therefore, multiple sectors must come together to embrace the intersectionality that exists between these social stratas.
Following Mr. Barber’s words, Nate Hultman turned the conversation over to Aly Tharp who provided a reflection on the vulnerability that climate and environmental activists face due to the lack of support from the government and private sectors. Echoing the words of the late Fredrick Douglas, Ms. Tharp noted that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” These words ring true in today’s world, Ms. Tharp remarks, especially in the face of a climate crisis that threatens our way of life.
While optimistic in the hard work of activists across the globe, Ms. Tharp notes that the physical struggle in the form of infrastructural dependency on fossil fuels is still an ever present and lingering obstacle hindering the progress of activists. Ms. Tharp concluded her remarks by noting that it is the responsibility of everyone to boldly face these struggles with an open mind and a creative imagination so that we might mitigate the lasting impacts of climate change.
Mr. Hultman then turned the conversation over to Salote Soqo who’s opening remarks focused on the impact of the climate crisis on frontline communities. Ms. Soqo began her comments by bringing attention to the forcible displacement within vulnerable communities as a result of rising global temperatures. In fact, speaking on the situation in the Pacific Islands, some island communities will need to raise their communities by up to four feet in the next 20 years to protect themselves from tidal flooding.
Effects of climate change, Ms. Soqo notes, are not just happening in foreign countries but also right here at our own doorstep. Therefore, the challenges of rising global temperatures must be met with government policy dedicated to protecting the rights of the frontline communities that are most vulnerable as well as the environment itself at home so that the goal of limiting annual temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius can be met.
Following Ms. Soqo’s comments, Mr. Hultman shifted into the discussion portion of the program where questions were posed directly to the panelists.
The discussion began with Mr. Hultman inquiring about how the global community can scale up in terms of action in the coming years so as to meet the demands of the international community.
Ms. Soqo was the first to respond to the question, saying that one of the most important things is to listen to those individuals or communities that are directly affected by the climate crisis. Ms. Soqo noted that around one third of pacific island states are not able to attend COP26 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic creating a substantial inequity in representation around climate justice.
Ms. Tharp was next panelist to tackle the question, remarking that investing in an ecological economy and restructuring the way we as a global community prioritize our spending will make a world of difference in the current climate situation. Ms. Tharp also shared a link to the Beautiful Solutions project which curates a collection of resources and solutions that are conducive to improving understanding around the climate crisis and how the global community can come together to transform the climate crisis.
Next, Mr. Barber, responding to Mr. Hultman’s first question, remarked that we need to recognize the amount of research and information available on the topic of climate change. As a public, Mr. Barber notes, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on resources such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and to put forth solutions to achieving these goals.
Mr. Barber also observed two distinct areas of focus within the climate change conversation, namely community ownership and the role and power of religion. Mr. Barber remarked that of the estimated 1200 institutions that make up around $14.5 trillion devoted to climate change action, one third are religious or faith based institutions. Mr. Barber also highlighted that community ownership is a method of enabling communities to scale up their action through recognizing community resilience.
Following a summary of the discussion, Nate Hultman introduced Doris Marlin, Unitarian Universalist Civil Society Delegation Head at COP26.
The conversation was then handed over to Ms. Marlin who began her opening remarks by noting her previous experiences working on project management both domestically and internationally as well as her values which are rooted in the Unitarian Universalist faith.
Ms. Marlin gave a presentation titled “Taking Action for Global Impact.” Ms. Marlin began her presentation sharing about a young boy named Bradley whom she had met outside the White House a week prior to the program. “I shouldn’t have to do this, I should just get a clean Earth to live on,” Ms. Marlin recalled him saying that day.
Ms. Marlin then identified four areas of influence that exist within the climate change conversation where people can be involved: the individual, local, state and national levels. She also mentioned that these four spheres are encased within the economic and societal stratas in which they are influenced. The identification of these stratas illustrated the need for all of society to come together on this issue and that diplomacy really does start locally, not just on a national level.
Ms. Marlin also made mention of the United States’ need to meet its obligation to the fund in order to minimize and adapt to greenhouse gasses entering the atmosphere. In order to achieve this, Ms. Marlin emphasized, individuals must engage and reach out to local and state representatives to advocate for increased funding for climate change programs.
Ms. Marlin closed the presentation with a quote often attributed to Chief Seattle which says “we don’t inherit the earth, we borrow it from our children” and handed the conversation back over to Nate Hultman. Mr. Hultman then transitioned into the Q&A portion of the program. The first question from the audience that was posed to the panelists inquired about how human rights, particularly issues of migration, can be integrated into COP26 and the discussion around the climate crisis?
Ms. Soqo noted that there are already two resolutions from the UN Human Rights Council within the past five years that set a precedent within the international community linking climate change and human rights. Ms. Soqo also referenced the statement from the President surrounding climate change and migration as well as the recommendations it provides on how to approach these obstacles and establish a foundation for the integration of climate change into the conversation of migration.
Following Ms. Soqo’s remarks, Mr. Hultman posed the next question to the panelists inquiring “what can we effectively do this week as congregations” leading up to COP26?
To this, Ms. Marlin responded by saying that it is vital to not let the upcoming infrastructure bill be gutted of climate change policies because it provides hope for mitigating the climate crisis.
Mr. Lattimer also responded to this question by emphasizing that it is vital for individuals to let their voices be heard by speaking to local and state representatives and recount the existential experiences they are facing in light of the climate crisis.
Mr. Hultman then posed the next question to the panelists asking “How do we think about our communications with elected leaders?”
Mr. Barber responded to the question by speaking on the importance of demystifying interactions with elected leaders and recognizing the importance of narrative when it comes to advocating for policies. Mr. Barber highlighted that the human metrics for success are equally as important as those traditional metrics we use to determine progress on climate change. Looking at process and equitable methods of facilitating conversations on climate change, Mr. Barber notes, is key in forming the narrative that advocates for better public policy measures.
Ms. Marlin also contributed to the conversation by sharing that, in her experiences working with the Strengthen Local Climate Commitment project, it is vital to foster relationships with local leaders so that all of the metrics and targets within the plan for tackling climate change can be addressed and if they are not then a conversation can happen that adjusts those goals.
Mr. Hultman continued the conversation by commenting on the “laboratories of our democracy” and innovations not just in technology but in the way leaders and constituents interact with each other and fosten an open conversation on climate change.
To conclude the Q&A portion of the program, Mr. Hultman asked the panelists, in a few words, to share with the audience what gives them hope for the future.
Ms. Tharp answered first saying “the spirit of life has staying power.” Mr. Lattimer responded by saying “the power of the people.” Ms. Marlin responded “what’s the alternative?”
Mr. Barber responded by saying “the activism of young people” and the coalescence of intelligence around the issue of climate change. The last panelist, Ms. Soqo responded by saying that “the relentless power of activists around the world” gives her hope for the future.
To close the program, Mr. Hultman turned the conversation over to Ms. Jill Chrisitanson who proceeded to encapsulate some of the conversations that occurred over the course of the event and some of the topics within the climate change field that were discussed.
Ms. Christianson concluded the program by thanking all of the panelists and the Unitarian Universalist local parishes that made this event possible. Ms. Christianson shared some closing words from President Biden’s Proclamation on UN Day 2021 that “We are at an inflection point in history.” With Glasgow around the corner, it is crucial that the U.S. continue to walk the talk and be present in the fight against the climate crisis.
The “Taking Action on Climate Change” program highlighted the continuing need for public awareness and intervention . During the program the audience heard from experts in the field with varying specialties, all of which were tied together by the precepts of the Unitarian Universalist Church. Tim Lattimer reflected on the impact that local activism has in tackling broader issues like climate change. William Barber III discussed the impact of climate change on marginalized communities and the climate crisis as the multiplier of social disparity. Aly Tharp reflected on the vulnerability of environmental activists amidst a growing brutalization against the environmental community. Salote Soqo pondered the future of smaller Island nations and the growing number of displaced individuals in frontline communities. And finally the evening’s moderator, Nate Hultman, provided words of reflection on the current progress and where COP26 can take us in terms of plotting the future of the climate crisis.
The climate crisis is no longer a future problem, it is here, now. We now have the power to choose what our future brings, but we cannot do it alone. Solving this crisis requires the cooperation of multiple strata of society from the private, public, and federal sectors.
This week, as world leaders discuss the future roadmap of the climate crisis, it is crucial to remember that democracy starts locally. Speaking to local representatives, getting more involved in your community, and learning more about the climate crisis are all ways we can As Mr. Lattimer notes when asked about what gives him hope it is “the power of the people” that provides the backbone to democracy and is the foundation for solving the larger and more complex issues that challenge the international community today.
As the COP26 conference continues in Glasgow this week, make sure to follow along with updates from the conference and be sure to check out the resources below to find out how you can get involved in the fight against climate change.
IPL Action Alert – Keep Climate In Reconciliation Bill
Continue Engagement with COP 26 and Unitarian Universalists
Unitarian Universalists Drawdown Initiative 2021
Daily Discussions and Updates with Unitarian Universalist Bill McPherson during COP 26