The beginning of 2023 seems like a particularly good time to reflect on climate change and our responses to it. In November, the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — also known as COP27 – convened for two weeks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. With our ongoing commitment to affirming the “interdependent web of existence of which we are a part”, Unitarian Universalists naturally have a stake in the outcomes of COP27.
Our UUA and the Pacific Western Region were well-represented at COP27. Both UUA COP27 Observers have ties to the UU Fellowship of Redwood City, CA, namely Lily Hartzell, who was raised there, and Deb Pritchard, a long-time member who also represented the International Convocation of UU Women (IWC) at COP27. Other PWR UUs bearing witness and raising their voices included UU-at-large Daphne Wysham, Chief Executive Officer of Methane Action, who traveled from Port Washington, WA to COP27, and Cindy Piester of the UU Church of Ventura (CA), COP27 Observer with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Meanwhile, leaders of Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) were keeping its members informed through a series of conversations updating them on COP27, including some with UUs there in Sharm El-Sheikh. One of the facilitators of those conversations was Dr. William McPherson, author of Ideology versus Science; Climate, Weather and Ideology and Sabotaging the Planet. Dr. McPherson, a member of University Unitarian Church in Seattle, is a retired environmental diplomat with 21 years of service in the U.S. Foreign Service, including assignments in Tokyo and Geneva. He has continued his work on international environmental issues as a writer with Earth Negotiations Bulletin, and as an activist with the Sierra Club. Dr. McPherson generously agreed to be in the PWR Spotlight for January via a phone interview. – Rev. Carlton E. Smith, Lead – UUA Pacific Western Region
Rev. Carlton E. Smith: What is most important for UUs to know about the outcomes of COP27?
Dr. William McPherson: COP27 did make some achievements, mainly the Agreement on Loss and Damage. There was a request by some parties at COP26 to consider a fund to help with the damage from climate change, such as the flooding in Pakistan. Most of the parties agreed that a mechanism should be set up for future COPs that would review some of the dimensions and requirements. That committee will report to the next COP in Dubai.
A major setback at COP27 happened with regards to the statement that coal power plants should be phased down and that fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out. The word unabated was added to describe those coal power plants and the word inefficient was added to describe those fossil fuel subsidies. These additions were made to address objections of fuel-producing countries, including Saudi Arabia and India. By adding the word unabated, those countries have license to do carbon capture-and-storage, even though that form of mitigation is known to produce more emissions when gas or oil is burned. By adding the word inefficient, the statement includes the idea that financing can be done more efficiently, say with a lower emissions rate. It doesn’t alleviate concerns that the use of fossil fuels continues.
Most of the subsidies set aside go toward the developed countries. This allows oil companies to say that their wells are being depleted, so they can get some return on that. Six or seven words in that statement were the result of hours of negotiation.
All parties are expected to provide new national recommendations for emission reductions by next year. Anyone who is interested in learning more about nationally-determined contributions can visit unfccc.int.
CES: What are the best ways for UU congregations that want to get involved in action for climate change to begin?
WM: One of the things we’ve been pushing is climate finance. The Green Climate Fund has a schedule of payments for all parties. The US fell behind during the Trump administration. We are trying to get the Biden administration to pick up the difference. Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice (UUSJ) does a lot of action directly with Congress. They’ve been pushing for Congress to fund the Green Climate Fund fully and make up the backlog of payments. They had an action recently in which members went on their website to send a letter to Senators and Congressmembers urging them to do so. That is still pending, but it’s coming for a vote pretty soon. The new Congress and especially the House will be less receptive these next two years. It’s pretty urgent to get that funding going.
The other action is to keep informed about these COP meetings. UUs can use all the resources we have on the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) website. There is a page on the COP there. That’s where we have all the programs listed. If we can get congregations to look at those pages and join UUMFE that would be great. UUMFE won’t be in Dubai for COP28 next year, but It’s possible some other UUs will be selected to attend.
There are some very active UU state action networks, such as in Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon. These state climate programs can be examples. Those are the places you find action.
CES: How has being a Unitarian Universalist informed your climate activism?
WM: It’s given me the networks I work with. Networking is very important. You can’t do a lot by yourself. There’s a climate action team at University Unitarian that’s been quite active in discussing important issues, but a lot of the actions are state-level and city-level actions. The Green New Deal idea is active here in Seattle. University Unitarian has also gotten involved in the Interfaith Resilience Center which is out of a neighboring Baptist congregation that uses solar and other energy alternatives. So we cooperate across denominations and faith traditions. In fact, we just had a Green Possibilities Fair at Temple Beth Shalom across the street from University Unitarian. We’re all in this together.
CES: What’s the best way for readers who want to follow up with you on what you’ve shared with us?
WM: I can be reached at email@example.com.
CES: Dr. McPherson, thank you so much for sharing your insights on COP27 and climate action with us!
If you have an idea for a future PWR Spotlight let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Julie Steinbach of the International Convocation of UU Women (IWC) for making sure COP27 was on our radar.