2016 January | UNA Greater Seattle Chapter

United Nations Association Greater Seattle Chapter

PeaceTrees VietNam: Real World Minecraft

January 10th, 2016 by unaseattle

Submitted by: Eugene Martin, UNA Seattle President

At the annual commemoration of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, held at Seattle’s Town Hall on December 10, 2015, the UNA Greater Seattle Chapter presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for the advancement of human rights to PeaceTrees Vietnam. The award was accepted by PeaceTrees Executive Director Claire Yunker.

PeaceTrees Vietnam is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that works in central Vietnam’s Quang Tri province to clear land areas of unexploded devices and restore the land to active use as farmland, for kindergartens, playgrounds and community centers. The organization also supports farmers in launching agricultural projects such as black pepper harvesting to provide income.

Since its founding in 1995, PeaceTrees Vietnam has focused primarily on assisting people who are endangered by “the explosive remnants of war” by conducting demining as well as public education projects on the risks of the remaining mines. This removal of unexploded devices provides a safer environment and the opportunity to restore the land to productive use. Demining in areas adjacent to schools and homes further advances the safety and security of persons who live, work, study and play nearby.

Now entering its twenty-first year, PeaceTrees Vietnam continues its programs which have removed and carefully disposed of more than 90,000 explosive devices. The organization has also built one hundred family homes, twelve libraries, ten kindergartens (including the Good Heart Kindergarten which was completed in 2015 in the village of Xi Nuc) and two community centers during its first two decades. “We’re replacing ordnance with hope in 2015” is PeaceTrees’ invitation for others to join in  the organization’s life-saving and restorative work.

PeaceTrees Vietnam’s work fulfills many of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among them Article 3, which provides for the right of security for the individual.  Article 23, providing for just and favorable work conditions, focuses on the right to be physically secure in one’s place of employment.   The right to basic education, in Article 26, is a further human right which PeaceTrees Vietnam has assured through its opening of schools for young children on land that was once dangerous to walk upon.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Award is presented each year by UNA Greater Seattle Chapter to an individual or organization in the Puget Sound region that works toward the advancement and preservation of human rights. The annual ceremony commemorating international Human Rights Day is sponsored by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

For more information on PeaceTrees Vietnam and the organization’s upcoming plans, go to www.peacetreesvietnam.org

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We’ll Always Have Paris…

January 10th, 2016 by unaseattle

Submitted by: Jim Eachus, Board Member

On November 30, the United Nations convened the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Twelve days later, the conference gave birth to an agreement approved by 196 parties. The original UNFCCC was universally accepted because it demanded almost nothing of the parties. So universal acceptance of the Paris accord is a real achievement – it does involve commitments. The trick was to accept whatever commitment each party felt capable of meeting. The result was a lot of glasses half empty and glasses half full, but no broken glass.

Let’s start with the good news. The Paris Agreement is by far the most ambitious climate agreement yet. The agreement expresses near universal concern about the problem. A specific point of success was the decision to review progress in five years, rather than ten years or never. The show of unity and determination may give some impetus to the disinvestment movement, if investors begin to believe that petroleum’s days are numbered. An optimist can imagine that attempts to meet the goals will result in miraculous technological breakthroughs.

Rather than going straight on to the bad news, let’s pause for no news. The last minute agreement to make the goal 1.5° C above pre-industrial temperatures instead of 2° C is strictly a feel good move, with no impact on anybody’s future behavior.

And now the bad news. No one was required at the conference to present a credible plan to meet their goals. Some have no plan. Many have based their goal on clean coal technology, a phantom unlikely ever to materialize. Nothing in the agreement addresses reducing resident atmospheric CO2. The sum of the contributions, if achieved, would still leave the world on a path to well above 2° C. 2° or even 1.5° hardly means problem solved. Look, we’re only at 1° C now, and the Arctic Ocean is melting, the Antarctic ice shelves are collapsing, coral reefs are dying, methane is being released from permafrost and subocean hydrates, glaciers and snow packs are disappearing, sea levels are rising and forests are burning.

Is the agreement binding? Sort of, but it has no teeth. And at the last minute, the US administration succeeded in getting “shall” changed to “should” so it wouldn’t have to get the impossible Senate approval. The change took the help of some French diplomatic slight of hand, declaring “shall” a typo. There followed considerable grumbling from the developing countries about what should happen should shall become should.

Bottom line? The Paris agreement is just one source of pressure on political leaders to do the right thing. It will only produce real results if every other form of pressure continues, as well. That means voter concern about climate change, activists in the streets, investor focus shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, better media coverage of the climate/weather connection, and blunt evaluations of the future from the scientific community.

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