The 22nd gathering (COP22) of the countries involved in  the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) began one day before the USA presidential election, on November 7, 2016. The two-week gathering was attended by heads of states, diplomats and federal employees, unions and business representatives, and civil society organizations. Seven Unitarian Universalist lay leaders from around the USA, and Salote Soqo, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, attended the COP22 as official observers representing the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). There were numerous other UUs in attendance as representatives for other organizations.

Listen to a special LIVE recorded Q&A conversation with members of the Commit2Respond COP22 Delegation, from Dec. 14, 2016: here.

One of Donald Trump’s promises on the campaign trail was that he would “cancel” the Paris Agreement — something that’s not actually possible. By the letter of the Paris Agreement, the USA is not be able to officially withdraw until November 4, 2020 — four years after the Agreement entered into force, and four days before the next USA presidential election. If the USA government chooses to flat ignore its commitments to participate in the global effort to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the country is likely to face international trade sanctions.

Given the turbulence that is in the forecast, it bears reminding that Climate Justice calls us to listen and look up to leadership from most impacted communities. One consistent takeaway message from COP22 is that grassroots power and leadership is absolutely essential to achieving a liveable climate. In this spirit, the Commit2Respond observers to COP22 would like to share the following snapshots and observations from their experience in Morocco with you:

Daphne Wysham: Local leadership, & global unification

I participated as an observer at COP22 as a representative coming from the First Unitarian Church in Portland, OR. When the news broke that Donald Trump had won the election, it was stunning to all parties at the COP in Marrakech. But that shock was quickly transformed into unanimous resolve: All of the countries that had signed the Paris Agreement, numbering almost 200, pledged to move forward aggressively on their commitments, with plans to put in place a rulebook within the next two years on climate action, regardless of Trump’s plans. In addition to the national leaders’ commitment to action, city leaders are stepping up, and are key players in advancing a strong climate agenda, globally.

As I wrote in a blog post for Huffington Post, the US Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing shared some shocking information with the faith groups: That we might see 5 feet of sea level rise due to one glacier alone, which is melting in Antarctica.

Our delegation hosted a press conference with myself, Shane Rattenbury, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the capital region of Australia, and Salote Soqo of the UUSC, speaking — it was broadcasted live on the the UN website. The press conference emphasized the leadership of trailblazing cities like Portland, which just passed an ordinance prohibiting the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure, and MLA Rattenbury’s community, which is moving toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Cities, if they act on the climate crisis, could succeed in reducing the vast majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions regardless of their national leaders. And they are doing just that.

Daphne Wysham has followed climate negotiations since 1997 as a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies; she now directs the climate policy work at Center for Sustainable Economy. She is currently working with elected officials in the U.S. and Canada around a platform for no new fossil fuel infrastructure and a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
Watch Daphne’s 5-part interview with Paula Pebsworth – a UU COP22 Observer who is a professional primatologist researcher
Watch Daphne’s interviews with Minister Nnimmo Bassey, New Covenant Gospel Church in Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOME) and Chair of the Board of Friends of the Earth-Nigeria.

Thomas Fletcher: Youth leadership for climate justice

 Still dark in Marrakech, I was up at 5 am on Wednesday, November 9 to check on US election results. It felt a little strange to be out of the country on the day of the vote, but I was not prepared for how strange and bewildered I felt when I learned that Trump was leading and then realized that he was going to be declared the winner. The shocking result cast a pall over the entire COP on Wednesday morning. I was in disbelief, and when my colleagues and I arrived at the summit venue, there were looks of pain, fear, and stunned blankness on the faces of many attendees. In surprisingly short order, however, a firm resolve seemed to emerge from the COP to continue to move forward on addressing climate change regardless of what happens in the United States.
One event that particularly inspired and energized me on the morning after the election was organized by a sizable youth presence at the COP including many members of SustainUS, a youth-led climate justice group based in the USA.

The action unfolded along the long main walkway between two fiber-board-constructed restaurants, the location for many demonstrations during COP22. The youth had barely gathered when they were descended on by the media. In a short time perhaps 75 youth were present, many crying and visibly upset and the crowd around them, including the press, quickly grew. Having not planned for a Donald Trump victory, the group nevertheless proved resourceful and with one swipe of red paint and small word change they perfectly captured the situation – changing their “Presidential To-Do List” to a  “People’s To-Do List”. Knowing that the US president-elect’s regime is full of climate change deniers, we cannot rely on help from the federal government. The work of climate justice must happen at local, state, and regional levels. The youth recognize this – we have to depend on ourselves – the people. Watch the video of the demonstration, here.

Thomas Fletcher is a member and co-moderator of the Justice Ministry at  Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, North Carolina. Thomas is a professional educator with previous work experience in NEPA compliance. 

Shelby Meyerhoff: Indigenous women’s leadership & wisdom

One of the first people I had the opportunity to hear speak was Nina Gualinga from the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku, Ecuador. She described how the people of her community have successfully resisted fossil fuel extraction, even as the Ecuadorian government has used military force against them. These are some of the insights Gualinga shared: indigenous people live close to the land and therefore see the impacts of climate change directly, and suffer acutely from environmental destruction; change is happening at the community-level; and people are risking (and in some cases losing) their lives in defense of the climate.

Later in the week, I had the chance to attend two events held by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). The main points raised by WECAN speakers were: Indigenous communities are diverse and face diverse challenges, but there is a sense of shared struggle and there are meaningful networks among Indigenous women; Indigenous societies have tremendous knowledge about how to live sustainably and that knowledge should be recognized and utilized; solutions for Indigenous communities need to come from Indigenous communities; the United Nations doesn’t adequately support the participation of Indigenous women; and national governments need to stop oppressing Indigenous groups while claiming to want to make progress on climate change. In addition, panelists again stressed that Indigenous people are being killed and otherwise persecuted for their environmental activism.

The morning WECAN event was a panel whose speakers included Blanca Chancosa from Ecuador and Maatalii Okalik, an Artic Inuit youth. The afternoon press conference included Osprey Orielle Lake from Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network; Thilmeeza Hussain from Voice of Women Maldives, Climate Wise Women, Maldives; Neema Namadamu from SAFECO, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Democratic Republic of Congo; Ruth Nyambura from African Eco-Feminists Collective; No REDD in Africa Network, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Kenya; and Marta Ventura from Abya Yala Women Messengers, Guatemala.

You can watch WECAN’s press conference online and hear the voices of some of these women directly. Their stories and insights are compelling. To get further updates from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, sign up for their newsletter and follow them on Facebook.

Shelby is a long-time Unitarian Universalist, with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard College in the comparative study of religion and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. She has served as a communications staff member at the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and Conservation Law Foundation.

Salote Soqo: Human rights protections and climate forced migration

I was impressed with the depth of side event discussions happening around the issue of climate forced displacement and the protection of the rights of displaced and vulnerable populations at COP 22. Fiji was the only state to actually present a case study of the relocation of Vunidogoloa villagers which they coordinated with the help of community and faith leaders, who played a crucial role in helping the communities move. I thought that this was particularly important to highlight to start thinking about the role of UU’s and other faith institutions in supporting affected communities, given the deep cultural and spiritual ties of indigenous people to their land, forests and water resources. I found that the work of various UN and intergovernmental organizations to be very informative in better understanding the issue but also lacking ongoing and effective engagement with affected and vulnerable populations. Aside from civil society organizations from the Asia and Africa regions who shared their experiences around climate forced displacement, I found that most of the discussions were oriented around top down approaches. Overall, a key element that I came away with is that climate forced displacement does not occur in a vacuum and that it is happening in addition to other socio-economic and political challenges that marginalized communities experience. In the context of these diplomatic negotiations around climate change, effective solutions require us to accelerate the implementation of mitigation, adaptation, financial flows and capacity building.

Salote is the Senior Program Leader of the UU Service Committee’s environmental justice and climate action program. Before joining UUSC, Soqo worked as a regional program coordinator in water equity and climate justice for The Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW). She was also the climate and carbon management fellow with EJCW and the Carbon Cycle Institute (CCI); prior to that, she worked as an environmental consultant in Fiji. Soqo attained her undergraduate degrees from the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and the University of the South Pacific, in Fiji. She also holds a master’s degree in environmental management from the University of San Francisco.

Watch Salote speak during a press conference at COP22
Read Salote’s blog post, “COP 22: What of the pre-Paris commitments? Pushing our global leaders to walk the talk!”

Martha Clemons: Moral obligation and climate forced migration

Funding for Adaptation for people already being affected by climate change whose lifestyles rely on their links to the land or oceans is vitally important.  It hit me when I first saw the poster at COP22 of children wading through water on their ‘sinking’ atoll in Papua New Guinea.  Later

Image of poster described — By Martha Clemons

in the week I attended a presentation called “Culture on the Move: Sea Level Rise, Culture, Heritage and Climate Mobility”.  It was during this Side Event that I was reminded of whole island nations needing to be relocated because of sea level rise and saltwater intrusion to the fresh water aquifers.  In the island nation of Kiribati alone, there are 20 different cultural heritages that will be lost as residents are forced off their atolls, and to leave their heritage and culture.  Some islands have already been evacuated but eventually the whole nation will need to be relocated. Fiji has offered to take them but they will not be saved from the painful loss of identity, local history and sense of place. There are organizations (INTO, International National Trusts Organization, for one) focused on preserving cultures and heritages. I learned that heritage, which includes indigenous knowledge, is an important means of mitigation of climate change and disaster risk from climate related extreme weather events, and as a source of resiliency. The remote island nations are also home to many endemic species of animals and plants that will be lost as saltwater intrusion threatens habitats.

The message for me was: As a nation, we have a moral obligation to work as fast as we can to reduce GHG emissions and we have a moral obligation to provide humanitarian funding and aid to the world’s most vulnerable populations and to support organizations like INTO who are working to preserve, in any form, these endangered cultures.  As a religious community we have the moral obligation to speak and act to fight climate change now!

Matha Clemons is a retired teacher with a Biology/Ecology background, a member of the UU Fellowship of Corvallis Climate Justice Committee, and a member of She has been actively involved in many local and national rallies, demonstrations and hearings for proposed fossil fuel export facilities.

Caitlin Waddick: Regenerative Community & Culture

I participated in the People’s Climate March in Marrakesh with my three children, who are 4th generation Unitarian Universalists, and my husband, who is a climate scientist. He and I had attended several previous COPs. My kids and I had marched in the People’s Climate March in Peru at COP20, and it felt great to be among people from all over the world. In all these activities, I held posters that we made that said #Commit2Respond and Boundless Regenerative Culture, an idea which supports the restoration of our potential to create a culture that promotes a more just, peaceful, and climate resilient world using actual known methods to renew our relationships to ourselves, each other, and the land and water.

My family marched between two groups. The group behind us was chanting in Arabic, though we couldn’t understand it; they were Moroccans and held Arabic language signs. The group in front of us was chanting in Amazigh, an indigenous language. They were from countries from Morocco to Algeria. It reminded me of the COP20 protest march in Peru. Local people were rightfully angry about land being taken from them for coal and oil mining, which polluted their lands and caused adverse health effects.

As I always do, I promoted the solutions to the climate crisis presented by social permaculture, ecological design, and agroecology, among others. I believe that sustainability as an idea has been co-opted by big business; and, we do not want to sustain injustice and inequality. Regeneration is a better word. It encompasses regenerative agriculture (#RegenerativeAg) and soil building and ecological design practices. It also promotes a positive vision for the human condition that includes the ethics of caring for people and the earth and sharing the earth’s abundance fairly because we are all on this planet together. You can read the full text of my solutions-oriented posters on social media using the hashtag #BoundlessRegenerativeCulture . At various events at COP 22 and offsite, such as at the People’s Climate Summit at the Universisty of Marrakesh and the WECAN event mentioned by Shelby, I represented permaculturalists and promoted the statement of Permaculture Solutions for Climate Change.

Let’s not wait while the governments argue at COP.  “We are the rising sun. We are the change. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and we are dawning.”

Caitlin has a Ph.D and Master of Community and Regional Planning (MCRP), and is a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vermont.

Ahti Tolvanen: Art for Transformative Expression & Truth-Telling

On Thursday November 10th I was invited to attend a “discussion” on Art for Good at The Marrakech Palais des Conference. It was part of a COP 22 side event called Social Initiatives Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF) 2016

When I received the invitation to COP 22 from the SIGEG secretary in recognition of our “high level” activity with the Superior A Theatre, my jaw dropped. I discovered as I walked into the auditorium for the event that Thursday afternoon that I was to be part of a panel, broadcast live to over 100 countries, along with six other accomplished and globally acclaimed artists. I was at a loss for words.

When my turn to speak came I managed to utter something about how in view of the US presidential election result, we needed to find news ways for people to speak face-to-face about issues that concerned them. The climate crises had been a side issue in the candidate’s campaigns and we needed to find new ways to empower people to act on their concerns. Forms of community theatre could be part of that. Part of overcoming growing official denial.

I was heartened when panelist Cecilia Guidote Alvarez endorsed my comment. She told of her years of work in the Phillipines with theatre groups large and small, rasing the issues of poverty and environment. Of shaking off dictatorship and building democracy. Ms. Alvarez was a UNESCO Artist for Peace and was continuing her hopebuilding work as director of Earthsavers DREAMS Ensemble.I could hardly wait to get back and relate stories from this experience to friends at the Thunder Bay Unitarian Hall in Canada where our activity with Superior A began.

Ahti is a Finnish-Canadian Unitarian Universalist. He is an Envoy to the UU-United Nations Office for the Lakehead Unitarian Fellowship of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a Board member of the Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice.

Catherine Boyle: International, Interfaith Solidarity with Standing Rock

As the sun set over the Atlas Mountains, the UUA delegation stood with over hundred people from all around the world in a wide circle in prayerful solidarity with the people of Standing Rock. Indigenous people from each continent led the prayer ceremony to witness and support the Sioux Tribe and their message of “Mni Wiconi” (Water Is Life).

As we sang, hummed and prayed, my heart ached for the Sioux. One leader in the circle expressed his sorrow for the situation in Standing Rock, saying, “The greatest sin you can commit is hurting Mother Earth.” Structures of sin, of evil want to rip through sacred land and poison the Sioux. They have already begun by hurting the peaceful resisters in Standing Rock through violence and drones. We as a faith have a moral obligation to dismantle structures of evil. “We’re all members of five finger clan,” Another indigenous leader said, “We must stand up for each other.”

Together we stand.
We stand in solidarity with the Sioux and all indigenous people.
We stand in solidarity with Mother Earth.
We stand in solidarity with water for all.
No more violence. No more drones. No more police brutality. No more harm against the people of Standing Rock.
Our web of life depends on caring for and protecting the environment, all of it, particularly our human family siblings in Standing Rock.
Water is life. Keep the water of life flowing for the Sioux.

Cat is a current student at Meadville Lombard Theological School. She serves as an intern minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond in Virginia. Ecological justice and the Seventh Principle are prime drivers of her ministry.

Read more from Cat on the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice blog.

Doris Marlin: International and Interfaith Commitment to Climate Action

“Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.  This makes it hard to plan the day…”

E.B. White’s quote captures for me the spectrum of my experience in Marrakech; rich with color, sounds, tastes, talks, scents, culture, and ancient history; all shared daily with thousands of global citizens dedicated to preventing the catastrophe that endangers all life as we know it.

Attending as a faith community representative I was always within arm’s reach of nurturing from those who embrace the sacredness of the life we protect and the justice we seek for those least responsible for the mounting climate chaos. I needed this solidarity. Through my lens of water system sciences, I’m all too

Photo from COP22  © Angie Rattay / Greenpeace
Photo from COP22
© Angie Rattay / Greenpeace

aware of our tinkering with dangerous tipping points.

The Paris talks followed on the inspiration of  Pope Francis’ moral arguments of Ladauto Si’ and world Faiths rising in support of a Strong and Just Agreement.  The Marrakech talks opened with the blessing of entering into force four years sooner than any were prepared to manage.  Then the fortitude behind 195 nations’ political will was briefly tested by an unlikely election outcome.  Yet, the determination to prevent the unthinkable for our common home was not interrupted.  The people and momentum of COP 22 was having none of it and promptly responded with, “WE WILL MOVE AHEAD.”

Doris is a UU climate activist with a professional and academic background in Water Resource Management. She advocates for climate action with the Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice in the National Capital Region (UUSJ) and with her congregation, the All Souls Church, Unitarian. She also organized for passing the “Act for a Living Climate” Action of Immediate Witness at the UUA General Assembly in 2015, and represented the Unitarian Universalist Association in Paris last year at the UNFCCC COP21.