Climate Call to Action: Lessons from Bhutan

When it comes to addressing climate change, we must draw from as many sources as possible to seek creative solutions. On July 13, I attended a side event at the United Nations Headquarters titled “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.” In this event, representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Finland shared their countries’ experiences of how they were implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to achieve zero extreme poverty, zero net greenhouse emissions, and zero net loss of natural capital. This new policy framework titled “Getting to Zero” from the Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) focuses on empowerment, institutional and finance reforms, and new metrics. While I listened to the reports countries made, I was particularly struck and inspired by Bhutan’s case described by Karma Tshoar, representative of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

He discussed actions being taken towards poverty reduction intervention in his country such as the rural advancement program, the targeted household program, and the national rehabilitation program. The approach is to reduce not only traditional income-based poverty, but also multidimensional poverty. Multidimensional poverty, measured by the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), is a concept developed by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Programme six years ago in 2010. This measure takes into account factors beyond just income and captures the severe deprivations that each person faces with respect to education, health and living standards. The MPI is useful in creating a more comprehensive picture of people living in poverty and allows comparisons across countries, different ethnic groups, and urban and rural regions. Most importantly, the MPI prevents vulnerable communities living in intense poverty from being overlooked and ignored by money metric measures.

Panel at “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals" at the UN Headquarters in NYC
Panel at “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals” at the UN Headquarters in NYC.

Tshoar also detailed Bhutan’s environmental protection efforts and engagement to end climate change. The Constitution of Bhutan mandates that the portion of land cover should increase rather than decrease over the years. The Constitution states, “…a minimum of 60 percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained as forest for all time.” Bhutan has also submitted ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), signed the Paris Climate Agreement, and is currently in the process of ratification. Furthermore, Tshoar reported that Bhutan offsets carbon emissions by exporting clean hydropower electricity. If Bhutan continues its progress, it will offset 25 million tons of CO2 by 2025.

While Bhutan aims to keep its efforts in line with the SDGs, Bhutan is also committed to building an economy that serves Bhutan’s socio-cultural and spiritual values. Instead of measuring material development gauged by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Bhutan has introduced and coined the concept of “Gross National Happiness” or GNH. Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, gave a TED talk earlier this year in March titled “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative.” He discussed how Bhutan is transforming itself while maintaining its Gross National Happiness. He explained, “Back in the 1970s, our fourth king famously pronounced that for Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Economic growth is important, but that economic growth must not come from undermining our unique culture or our pristine environment.”

While Bhutan’s economy is small, it is unique in several ways. First, all citizens are guaranteed free school education, and those that work hard are given free college education. In addition, healthcare is completely free; medical consultation, treatment, medicines are all provided by the state. Tobgay explains, “We manage this because we use our limited resources very carefully, and because we stay faithful to the core mission of GNH, which is development with values.”

Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, presenting his TED Talk titled "This country isn't just carbon neutral- it's carbon negative."
Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, presenting his TED Talk titled “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative.”

In regards to environmental efforts, Tobgay supported Tshoar’s explanation of how Bhutan has been offsetting carbon emissions by describing the strategy of protecting areas. He explained, “It is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. But the beauty is that we’ve connected them all with one another through a network of biological corridors. Now, what this means is that our animals are free to roam throughout our country. Take this tiger, for example. It was spotted at 250 meters above sea level in the hot, subtropical jungles. Two years later, that same tiger was spotted near 4,000 meters in our cold alpine mountains. Isn’t that awesome?”

Bhutan’s holistic approach to development has achieved impressive results; it has adopted a progressive poverty reduction plan, remains carbon negative, maintains a set land cover ratio, and provides free access to education and health care – while simultaneously preserving its culture, values, and history. Bhutan leads and governs its people with values that align with Unitarian Universalist Principles. Their commitment to preserving the Earth’s environment and caring for its human and non-human creatures displays their respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Bhutan demonstrates that every nation, big or small, not only plays an important role in addressing climate change, but also possesses the ability to lead and teach by example.

By Christina Hui, UU-UNO Climate Justice Program Intern

Joint Activism: Working Together for Human Rights and Dignity

Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.
Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.

At the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), we work to ensure that all people’s human rights are upheld and respected, no matter who they are or what their circumstances. Although advocacy areas are often separated, with some organizations and people working to combat discrimination based on race and others focused on sexual orientation, separate identity-based advocacy may not be the most effective way. On Thursday, July 21st, 2016, the UU-UNO hosted a panel event titled “At the Intersection of Racism and Homophobia: Joint Activism for Human Rights & Dignity.” The esteemed panelists held a wide variety of professional, academic, and personal backgrounds and areas of expertise, and complemented each other perfectly to produce a simulating and dynamic conversation. This powerful event left audience members inspired to get to work for intersectional justice.

Panelists included: Tanya Hernandez, professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law; Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York; Rashima Kwatra, Communications Officer at OutRight Action International; Dr. Monica Motley, Health and social justice advocate for racial, gender, and sexual minorities; and Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Interim Program Director at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, NYC. These panelists, with their diverse backgrounds, touched on the issue of racism and homophobia in a number of contexts, from Thailand and Iran to the U.S.’s rural south, to the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign and Unitarian Universalist congregations. They emphasized that no one can be truly free from discrimination unless discrimination is abolished in all its forms.

In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.
In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.

The panelists shed light on the magnitude of this problem, highlighting instances of racism and misogyny in LGBTQI campaigns, the failure of courts to address discrimination based on multiple identity factors, and security concerns for LGBTQI people worldwide. Following the panel discussion, audience members had the opportunity to explore different aspects of their identities and consider the integral nature of each, reinforcing Audre Lorde’s idea, echoed by Dr. Motley, that there is no “hierarchy to oppression.” An African American lesbian woman who experiences discrimination cannot say that she was oppressed because of her race, or because of her sexual orientation, or because of her gender to the exclusion of the others, just as she cannot choose to prioritize different aspects of her identity. Her identity as a woman is not stronger than her identity as an African American, or as a lesbian. Examining intersecting identities in this way helped participants to understand the importance of unifying LGBTQI and Racial Justice campaigns.

As Unitarian Universalists and as activists, there is a lot that we can learn from this conversation. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, reflecting on her own experience as a UU activist, pointed out that even campaigns with good intentions can get so narrow in focus that they miss opportunities for joint activism. They fail to acknowledge other injustices that are threatening or disadvantaging the very community members that they are trying to support. Many people focus on the scarcity of resources, and do not open their minds to consider the opportunities that are possible if those volunteers expanded their scope. It is inspiring to see some UU congregations marching with Black Lives Matter banners in their local Pride parades – expanding this kind of integrated advocacy is key to opening up possibilities for collaboration with more groups and achieving more together.

The panelists also addressed why it is so important to take immediate action. In scores of countries worldwide, people face brutal punishment and even death as a result of strict anti-LGBT laws. Additionally, as Dr. Motley observed, there is a lot of racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, which can lead to major medical problems because those oppressed communities’ needs are never addressed. Professor Hernandez stressed that even systems designed to protect people from discrimination, are themselves discriminatory, as exemplified by the unwillingness of legal courts to consider intersecting and overlapping identities.

When it comes to the role of faith in activism, religion was cited both as perpetuating oppression and as a champion of justice. As UUs, we have the ability to drive progressive faith-based social justice campaigns. We can bridge the gap between other religious communities and create cooperative initiatives. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward addressed how her work is guided by the Unitarian Universalist Principles promoting “the inherent worth & dignity of every person” and “respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part.” Her understanding and internalization of these ideas have driven her to social justice work, as they motivate and empower UUs across the globe to find empathy for those directly affected by homophobia and racism, and to recognize that directly or indirectly we are all harmed by discrimination and hate. In this interconnected world, only by working together for the benefit of those who are oppressed can we all be achieve peace, liberty, and justice for all.

by Kelly Diaz, UU-UNO LGBTQ Rights Program Intern

To watch video coverage of the panel, visit:

Financing for Women, Peace, and Security

Sixteen years ago, a landmark resolution on Women, Peace, and Security passed in the Security Council of the United Nations. That resolution, UNSCR 1325, laid the foundation for a new approach to global security, and alongside the Beijing Declaration, the global community committed to ensuring that the impact of conflict on women and girls would not go unaddressed. Since that resolution, the global feminist civil society community has worked to counter the increasing presence of militarism while simultaneously advancing the agenda of women’s role in making a more peaceful, just, and equitable world.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 and since then has worked around the world to unite women in the fight for demilitarization, disarmament, and a more equal world – causes that UUs have worked tirelessly for as well. Here at the UN, WILPF has created a project called PeaceWomen, who monitor the implementation of UNSCR 1325, advance inter-agency cooperation on Women, Peace and Security, and organize information sharing through their website and events, like the one I was lucky enough to attend this month. This workshop invited guest speakers from the civil society community, academia, UN agencies, and governments to share their knowledge on a variety of topics, from illicit financial flows to gender responsive budgeting and National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security.

Photo from PeaceWomen
Experts, civil society representatives, and other WPS players participate in the workshop

Militarization and the Protector-Protected Relationship

Our day started with comments from Cynthia Enloe, an expert on gender and militarism and someone recognized globally for her insights on women’s role in the changing paradigm of international relations. Her comments, focusing on the protector-protected relationship in militarization and how gender roles are reaffirmed by this dichotomy, allowed those participating in the workshop to better understand how an increasingly nationalistic and gendered world leads us away from equality and hurts feminism. One concept that I found particularly significant from Dr. Enloe’s presentation was how in the protector-protected relationship a so-called “natural” (male) protector emerges, reinforcing traditional gender norms and further militarizing societies.

In the UN’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration work (DDR), we find that even in a post-UNSCR 1325 world, women are being under-served and underrepresented, leading to post-conflict scenarios that may be even more gendered than before. Nela Porobic is someone who has seen first hand how DDR has failed to protect, serve, and advance women in Bosnia. Ms. Porobic has worked extensively as a WILPF coordinator in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and she commented on the issues facing that country 20 years after the end of the Bosnian war. From the lack of any women being present at the Dayton Agreement to the post-war policy of the EU only looking at women “in the broader context”, the economic and social rights of women have been generally ignored, hindering peace and development in that country. As someone who works on the ground, Porobic issued some recommendations for future peace agreements and ensuring that women are represented in post-war scenarios:

  • Peace agreements must introduce measures for redress of victims of war
  • Peace agreements must ensure protection and effective implementation of economic, social and cultural rights for all.
  • Peace agreements must move financing into a framework for building sustainable and gender just peace.


Tracing the origins of Racism

Unitarian Universalists have a long history of engaging in racial justice advocacy individually and as congregations. As people of faith who believe in the inherent worth of every person, UUs strive for justice, equity and compassion in relationships and work for systemic change through advocacy.

At the end of May, I attended an event called “Understanding the Origins of Racism, Afrophobia & Colorism and the Movement for Reparations.” Hosted at Baha’i Center and organized by the United Nations NGO Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Afrophobia and Colorism  (CERAC), this event was part of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015- 2024 event series.

Manbo Dowoti Desir, Chairperson of CERAC

Founded in 2000, CERAC grew from Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism status in the NGO committee for Human Rights at the United Nations. As the standalone committee it is now, CERAC takes bold stance against the invisible respect, insufficient recognition, and grievous injustices that people of African descent face globally through advocacy, development of global policy and dissemination of educational information.  The UU-UNO’s Director Bruce Knotts once served as co-chair of the subcommittee.

There are many shared values between Unitarian Universalists’ social justice ideals and CERAC’s mission and vision. Both are dedicated to ending racial discrimination and injustice holistically: starting within ourselves and moving out into the world around them. Aware of the renewed attention and energy toward racial justice work in recent years, UUs and CERAC take steps putting faith in action, engaging at the grassroots level fostering collaboration to learn, grow and celebrate multi-ethnic and multicultural communities. Through advocacy, education and activism the Unitarian Universalist Association and CERAC are making progress in breaking down divisions, healing isolation and promoting the interconnectedness of all justice issues.

A similar deep and multidimensional approach to social justice was reflected CERAC’s event – as the origin of racial intolerance and social control in the United States was traced through economic, social and political analysis. Of course this event would not have been what it was without the intelligent and inspiring speakers: Dr. Jeffery B. Perry, Dr. Bilan Bashi Treiler and Dr. Kwasi Konadu, and the attentively engaged audience. Presenters related theoretical and objective substance on the invention of the white race and white supremacy as well as ‘the ethnic projects’ that racism survives and thrives on. They followed the footprints of racial identification based on skin color all the way back to the 8th Century CE, and the origins the reparations movement back to the Belinda petition to the Massachusetts court in 1783.

Takeaway Lessons

Dr. Jeffery Perry 

The take away from Dr. Perry’s talk was that race is beyond a social construct. It is invented for the purpose of making profit and maintaining social control against the interest of Blacks and working class Europeans. Because race and class are intertwined to sustain white supremacy, efforts taken to revive economic crisis such as the Great Depression actually set back the economic progress of blacks. For example the New Deal, which was nationwide economic relief, recovery and reform tactic, did not work in favor of People of Color.  The black to white unemployment ratio that was 1:1 in 1929 was 2:1 by the end of the New Deal. The connection between racial and economic justice is inextricably linked in all aspects of society, a relationship addressed in the UU-UNO’s 2016 Intergenerational Spring Seminar.

On the other hand, politically People of Color are “the touchstone” of all contemporary human rights struggles in the United States. Blacks’ struggle for rights and dignity led to the suffragist efforts, the labor movement, and even the LGBTQ rights advocacy. Dr. Perry’s presentation concluded insisting that white supremacy is historically a principal retardant to social change efforts, and that struggle against white supremacy should be central to efforts against racism. Racism is always an obstacle to creating fair and loving communities.

Dr. Vilna Treitler

Building off the topic of white supremacy, Dr. Treitler introduced the concept of “ethnic projects,” in which racism survives and thrives in the United States. The term “ethnic projects” refers to the racialization of new migrants – an iterative incorporation process guided by white supremacy. This phenomenon can be best understood with clothing and drawer analogy. If the racial hierarchy is bureau, the racial categories are the drawers, and ethnicities are found inside.

The history of America can be summarized by various migrants groups’ struggles to leave the bottom drawer without disrupting white supremacy, which is the top drawer. Once new groups learn the language, the practice of the race and the struggle against their own position – they exert pressure to change the paradigm in which they participate. At the bottom drawer there are large numbers of African Americans systematically barred from leaving while various immigrant groups i.e. the Italian, the Irish, and the Chinese became “white.” Racialization is legitimized by a racial paradigm that is made of categories and hierarchy, as well as racial “commonsense” and racial sanctions. The ethic projects are a racialization cycle that sustain racism and allow intolerance to thrive.

Dr. Kwasi Konadu

Getting the story on the origins of racism correct is particularly important when considering reparations. Dr. Konadu advised that reparation is an idea we have to prepare for in constructing what would satisfy and benefit people of African descent, but also build infrastructure and modes of delivering the amends. Historically, requests for reparations have been proposed at the government, courts, and civic groups in the form of economic benefit/monetary gains for blacks. The first request for reparation was granted to Belinda by the State of Massachusetts; Belinda was an eighty-year-old slave whose owner passed away. The Pension Movement led by Isaiah Dickerson and Callie House was successful in petitioning Congress and  providing tax reliefs and monetary assistance to ex-slaves. In 1969 James Forman demanded reparations from white churches and synagogues government and won three million dollars, which he put towards education.

Reparations can vary from verbal apologies or tangible benefits. Although in the past reparation was defined by monetary compensations, reparations can be done per each sector of society: health, education, housing etc. The conclusion about reparations is unclear, as the concept of reparation itself, reflecting the need for further discussion of the topic.

Attendees of the event engaged in Q&A

My main take away from this event is that as individuals, as society, and congregations we have to constantly engage ourselves in learning about the realities of racial inequality and injustice. As Unitarian Universalists define their social justice legacy as a policy of “deeds not creeds,” we have to connect with, embrace, and support social justice movements through contributions of our money, skills, time and more. I am convinced that doing so will empower and grow our love and belief in the inherent worth of every person, which are fundamental gears to harness to stop oppression against people of African decent and all others.

By Seble Alemu, UU-UNO Racial Justice Program Intern

World Refugee Day, 2016


As we celebrate World Refugee Day, let us remember that all of our peoples migrated from somewhere else.  Even indigenous peoples have migrated.  Migration is always difficult, but perhaps it is harder now than it’s been for a long time.  There are some 65 million people who are displaced.

I was the U.S. Government’s Regional Refugee Coordinator for West Africa 2000-2003.  During that time I repeatedly visited refugees in camps, cities and towns all over West Africa.  The first myth that gets exploded is that refugees are different from the rest of us.  They are students, business people, professional people, property owners, farmers, academics and people just like the rest of us.  Assistant Secretary of State for Populations, Refugees and Migration, Donald Steinberg went with me to see refugees in Conakry, Guinea.  He introduced himself to a young refugee from Sierra Leone who said, “I had a science teacher by the name of Donald Steinberg.”  That surprised the Assistant Secretary of State, who hadn’t thought about refugees as students of science.  In fact, I once met a refugee who’d studied at the Paris-Sorbonne University.  These are people just like us who never contemplated they’d lose their homes and have to move someplace else.

Like it or not, it could happen to you, and it’s more likely than you think.  Here in New York City, there are still people who are coping with the loss of their homes due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  Others have had to leave New York City due to the high cost of living and jobs that don’t pay the rent.

Conflict, war, climate change, economic collapse, bigotry, oppression and more cause individuals, couples and families to flee looking for a better life.  Often, adults, who might be willing to stick it out a bit longer, will leave when they see their children have no future where they are.  Many families move to ensure their children can have a better future.

These people who are just like us and could be us one day, need welcoming communities that will help them start their lives anew.  Canada, Germany, Turkey and Jordan stand out in the current crisis of Syrian refugees.  The fact of the matter is that while caring for recently arrived refugees can seem like a burden, in the long run these refugees can become the promise of the nation’s future.  Our faith and common humanity and our self-interest call on us to give refugees and the displaced the best welcome we can.

Bolder Ways of Being a Unitarian Universalist Activist

CUC_logoOn May 20th – 22nd, 2016, the Canadian Unitarian Council invited Unitarian Universalists across Canada to explore  Bolder Ways of Being in Vancouver. For their now bi-annual national conference, participants were invited to learn and discuss ways to step out of their comfort zones in their interpersonal relationships, congregational affairs, and collective social action. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) was glad to be part of the conference once again to shed light upon the potential for international justice action within the Canadian Unitarian community.

The idea of boldness was omnipresent throughout the duration of the conference; it initially hit home for me during Friday night’s Confluence lecture on UU community and loving relationships. Rev. Melora Lynngood spoke about the stress, emotional strain, and interpersonal conflict that can often come with congregational leadership. At the end of her sermon, she invited members of the audience to share their own speed bumps in congregational work and techniques they have used to address it. This activity brought an audience of over one hundred into a single intimate conversation. I was touched by the boldness of the audience members in sharing their ideas and vulnerabilities with the larger group, and inspired by the collective desire to improve congregational affairs and relationships.

As the weekend progressed, conference attendees delved deeper into learning about bolder ways of embracing Unitarian Universalism. On Saturday, each conference attendee selected a workshop stream on a topic of their choice.  I chose to attend a workshop stream entitled Being Bold for Climate Justice, led by Aly Tharp, Program Manager for the UU climate justice movement Commit2Respond and member of the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice staff. During this workshop stream, attendees were presented with success stories of bold climate action and called into large-group discussion of the steps and stakeholders required to successfully take action for climate justice. With increased attention placed on climate justice in the newly adopted Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is no better time than now for Unitarian Universalists and Envoys to be devoting attention and energy toward the topic. Learning peaceful protesting techniques to act against environmental degradation, left attendees with bold ideas for enacting change to bring home to their congregations. The UU-UNO is excited to carry on this energy at the upcoming Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly where one of  our workshops will address how UUs and other people of faith can take action to support meeting and exceeding the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Audrey Carleton presenting a Blue Ribbon Congregation award to the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto
Audrey Carleton presenting a Blue Ribbon Congregation award to the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto

Later that evening, UU-UNO Envoys and supporters gathered at a UU-UNO reception to honor the 2016 Blue Ribbon Congregations and this year’s winner of the Elaine Harvey International Justice Award, Eryl Court. The winners of these awards were recognized by the larger group for taking their own form of bold action by mobilizing their congregations in action toward the UN’s goals for peace in their home congregations. As was emphasized during the reception, the UU-UNO could not do its valuable work as an NGO without the help of our Envoys across North America. It was inspiring to meet and celebrate the efforts of these leaders who work so hard to act locally toward global change.

The following day, attendees of all ages were invited to a  multigenerational lunch. Guests were randomly assigned seating to ensure an even generational distribution at each table, and were instructed to consider and discuss our UU principles and favorite UU hymns and traditions through a group game. My past experience with multigenerational activities at my home congregation and district has typically been limited to my personal interaction with adult advisors during youth group and youth cons, and a Time for All Ages every other Sunday service. I was impressed by the CUC’s organized effort to bring together conference attendees of different generations, and by the innovation and preparation that went into planning this activity. This intergenerational approach is critical to growing our faith and expanding our social justice movements. Multigenerational UU-UNO Envoy Teams in congregations can bring an important new dimension to existing social justice work and stronger bonds in the congregations. The UU-UNO also fosters these relationships in a yearly Intergenerational Spring Seminar where youth and adults come together to tackle issues of global concern such as economic inequality, racism, criminal justice, or climate change.

One Guns or Butter team engaged in a discussion.
One Guns or Butter team engaged in a discussion.

Following lunch on Sunday, another UU-UNO representative and I led a multigenerational workshop, Guns or Butter, during which I was further inspired by the beauty of intergenerational relationships. In this international relations simulation that modeled the work of the UN, participants were split up into five separate nations and each was assigned a leadership role within their own nation. As a nation, they were instructed to establish goals related to their economic growth, human development, and relationships with other countries, and then to engage in trade and develop treaties with other nations. Each team included approximately the same proportion of youth and adults, and over the course of the game, intergenerational teams plotted and planned their route to achieving their goals. As I watched team members interact with one another, I saw youth and adults immersed in dialogue over their next ‘move.’ I was excited to see UUs engaged in the topic of international relations and by the potential for success found in intergenerational work.

By the end of the conference, I felt more connected to the Canadian UU community than ever before. As I hugged and bid farewell to my new Canadian friends after Sunday night’s closing ceremonies, I felt a familiar feeling of sadness to be leaving an environment of warmth that I had not felt since bridging into young adulthood. I left Conference 2016 in Vancouver eager to engage in bold activism for climate justice and international human rights, with new ideas about the power of intergenerational work, and a wave of optimism for the future of the Canadian UU community.

By Audrey Carleton, Envoy Outreach Intern at UU United Nations Office

Inclusive Education for Global Citizenship: UN Conference in Gyeongju, Korea

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts (far right) speaks at a roundtable discussion at the 66th UN DPI/NGO Conference.
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts (far right) speaks at a roundtable discussion at the 66th UN DPI/NGO Conference.

uuadpingoboothThe 66th Annual United Nations (UN) Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference was held in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea from May 30 through June 1, 2016. This year’s conference was on Education for Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together. I attended as Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), and as Chair of the UN DPI/NGO Executive Committee. The UU-UNO had a booth at the conference which displayed our materials and also those of both Japanese and Korean LGBTIQ groups who participated in our activism at the conference.

I spoke at several events throughout the conference, including a speech (available to watch online) at the opening of the proceedings, which was very well received.   I also spoke as part of the first roundtable discussion on inclusive education. Later in the conference, the UU-UNO hosted a workshop on inclusive education for LGBTIQ learners, looking at the issues of bullying and discrimination in learning spaces around the world and in Korea.

Workshop sponsored by the UU-UNO "Inclusive Education and SDGs"
Workshop sponsored by the UU-UNO: “Inclusive Education and SDGs”

In attendance at the conference was an organized homophobic group of advocates. While our message was very well received by the vast majority of the 5,000 attendees from all over the world (representing over 100 countries), this small core of very homophobic Christians was a challenge.  They took many of our materials (in order to destroy them), argued with us at our booth and attended our workshop.  They have a reputation of being disruptive, but as our workshop was lived streamed, they acted with civility and kept quiet.  We were glad for the support of the Rev. Steve Stearman of Metro Baptist Church in NYC and Ricky Wong of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, both of whom made strong statements in favor of our panelists.  Korea is a majority Buddhist nation with a strong and powerful Christian minority.  Having strong Christian and Buddhist advocates on our side was very helpful.

Workshop sponsored by the NGO Committee on Peace, Disarmament and Security.
Workshop sponsored by the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security.

I also moderated a workshop on global disarmament issues with two Japanese and two Korean panelists who talked about the need for nuclear disarmament and peace on the Korean peninsula.  I moderated this panel in my capacity as chair of the UN NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security.  This committee was founded in 1970 by UU minister, Rev. Homer Jack.  We continue his work for peace, and ending armed violence will the topic of the UU-UNO’s 2017 Intergenerational Spring Seminar.

The final challenge was in finalizing the conference’s outcome document, the Gyeongju Action Plan.  This document was online and over a million people viewed it and gave us input. Before even going to Korea, we debated the document at length in New York and the final discussions were during several sessions at the conference in Korea. We fought hard for inclusive language and the homophobes fought hard for exclusion. The arguments were heated, with some Korean Christians telling us to leave their country, asking why we were even in their country in the first place. We reminded them that we were at a United Nations Conference and invited guests of the Republic of Korean Government.

There was also a strong push by these same individuals for inclusion of a model of development called “Saemaul Undong” into global plans. Our LGBTQI allies opposed this on the grounds that this Korean model of development was organized by Park Chung-hee, South Korean president, dictator, and military general who led South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979. While Saemaul Undong did develop rural areas, it did so under very centralized authority with little regard for human rights.

The arguments over LGBTIQ inclusion and over Saemaul Undong were the most contentious I’ve ever experienced in my decades of diplomatic work. The result was a strong statement of inclusion within the outcome document: “The importance of universal inclusion, acknowledging that the absence of a particular group or identity in text can lead to the exclusion of that group or identity in policy. We have made a conscious decision not to highlight any particular group or identity to ensure full inclusion and equal treatment of all people – especially those in positions of specific vulnerability and marginalization. It is unacceptable that diverse group memberships and identities have been used to deny the right to learn or otherwise marginalize individuals. In education, as in all things, the basis of non-discrimination is, and ought to be, our common humanity.” Our Korean LGBTIQ allies were disappointed that there was no specific mention of LGBTIQ people, but I was satisfied that this was the best we could get and that it advances the cause of inclusive education. There was also no mention of Saemaul Undong in the outcome document.

Finally, the outcome document calls for: “Support enactment by the United Nations for an International Day of Education that would serve as a means to promote education for global citizenship, learning for civic engagement, and literacy for grassroots empowerment.” We are working with the Missions of the Republic of Korea and Canada to get this enacted at the upcoming UN General Assembly.

Ethical Eating: A Solution to Climate Change

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Brent Kim describes the many benefits of a mostly plant-based diet

As climate change continues on its current course, it becomes an increasing existential threat to human civilization. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s (UU-UNO’s) Climate Justice Initiative is compelled to acknowledge this threat, and try to find solutions from a theological standpoint. As such, as Unitarian Universalists we are called to discuss the ethical dimensions of Climate Change, and we reflect on our 7th Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence, to frame our work.

To adequately address the ethics of climate change, it is crucial to examine issues relating to food. Although not a widely discussed topic, the consumption choices that humans make, both in food choices and in food sourcing, are an enormous contributor to climate change. The UU-UNO has begun collaboration with the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation around the topic of Ethical Eating. This is a topic that some Unitarian Universalists have been engaged with for many years: in 2011, the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a Statement of Conscience about ethical eating, urging UUs to be mindful of their relationship with food as part of respecting and acting compassionately towards all life on the planet. On May 19, 2016 the UU-UNO and Tzu Chi held a joint panel discussion “Ethical Eating: A Solution to Climate Change” at the United Nations Church Center in New York City.

This panel spoke broadly on the environmental and moral impacts of food, and more pointedly on the implications of meat consumption.  As one panelist explained, “Ethical Eating is to eat to minimize adverse impacts and maximize positive impacts on the environment and yourself.”  Our four panelists delved deeply into an analysis of the scientific and ethical problems created by climate change and what individuals can do to in the journey towards living a more climate-friendly lifestyle.

The first of the four esteemed panelists was Brent Kim, who serves as the Program Officer for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.  Kim addressed the current dogma that a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is paramount to solving the issue.  Noted was the Paris Agreement, so far signed by 177 countries, in which nations agreed to to keep global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.  Kim argued that even this value, which will still contribute to over 15 feet of sea level rise, will be impossible to achieve through a switch to renewable energy unless we significantly modify our eating habits towards foods with lower GHG impact.  This means consuming largely plant based foods – a 75% reduction of meat, dairy and eggs would be the equivalent of closing 94 coal- fired plants and opening over 100, 000 wind turbines.


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Gidon Eshel presenting research

Gidon Eshel, a Research Professor at Bard College followed, and discussed the specifics of the caloric differences in food, as related to their calories in fossil fuels.  Eshel explained that approximately 31 calories of fossil fuels are needed to produce every one calorie of meat, as opposed to 1.5 calories of fossil fuels to every one calorie of plants.  He emphasized that a plant-based diet not only mitigates the progression of climate change, but can also feed more of the world’s population.  Growing vegetables takes up less land than livestock, and the land used for livestock grazing could be diverted towards other vegetable crops.  It is important to note that neither Kim nor Eshel advocated for the complete elimination of meat products from the diet, as some land is soil poor and only appropriate for grazing purposes.

To add a new dimension into this panel discussion, the theological and social justice dimensions of food were introduced by our next panelist, the Rev. Peggy Clarke. Clarke led us through a philosophical reasoning on how humans have allowed for climate change to occur, and why we have been ineffective in its mitigation.  She introduced to participants the paradigm in which we reside, in which we as humans see all other life as being in service of human life, and the earth is both the supplier and sewer for our lives. She emphasized that in order to actually address climate change, we must address this paradigm.  Humanity is experiencing a great need for reverence not just for all life, but for the earth itself.


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Ali Hard explaining food policy

A theological underpinning in hand, we then turned to food policy – what is being done and what can we do to address current food policy which influences how so many of us eat. Participants heard from Ali Hard, a Tisch Scholar at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College in Columbia University. Hard emphasized the need for sustainability standards in the dietary guidelines, and how such a policy would promote more responsible sourcing in school food programs, including a reduction in meat based meals. She explained that the way to achieve healthy sustainable diets is to create policy that promotes increased access to healthy sustainably grown and sourced foods, that encourages education about the value of a plant-based diet, and that provides supportive communities that inspire sustainable eating and living.

The point is not for all humans to immediately put down their bacon burgers and cheese omelets and become vegan right away, but to be mindful of the impact their food choices have on the environment. Try changing one meal per week to be entirely plant-based. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that many food decisions will require us to make trade- offs between competing priorities.  Ethical Eating is a change we can each make to help the environment, and of course there is no single answer for how to mitigate climate change; food is but one factor in a multidimensional conversation.  The UU-UNO’s work collaborating with Tzu Chi on ethical eating will continue in the upcoming months, building up to Ethical Eating Day on January 11, 2017, where we ask those interested to adopt a plant based diet for the day.

By Mara Moss, UU-UNO Climate Justice Initiative Intern

United Nations Reform: Slow, patient work to make the UN better

Bruce Knotts is Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office. He also serves as Chair of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security and Co-Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights.

Bruce Knotts addresses participants at an event at UN Headquarters.
Bruce Knotts, Director of UU-UNO

As President and CEO of the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, I also serve on the NGO Security Council Working Group. This working group meets with the ambassadors of those nations currently serving on the UN Security Council and with high ranking officials and missions working on Security Council issues. The most interesting of these meetings are with the member state ambassadors of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group. This group of small and medium sized member states meets at the Swiss mission to the UN to work on improving how the UN Security Council works and increasing transparency in the election of a new UN Secretary General.

In July 2015, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group proposed a “Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes,” which calls upon all members of the Security Council (both permanent and elected) to not vote against any credible draft resolution intended to prevent or halt mass atrocities.  As of a meeting I had with the ACT Group on March 22, 2016, 111 member states of the United Nations have signed on to this code of conduct.  Canada and the United States are not among those 111 nations. (more…)