Mary Robinson - interview on climate justice 2018
Mary Robinson is the former President of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has become a global advocate for climate justice, having served twice as the UN’s Special Envoy on Climate Change and is founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She speaks to the IBA about the challenges after the 2015 Paris Agreement, the role of business and states in reducing their carbon emissions and about the unmistakeable role of women in leading the global fight against climate change. She also talks about her concerns for future generations both sides of the Irish border as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
Ruth Green [00:00:00] I’m Ruth Green and I'm here at the IBA Annual Conference in Rome. And today I'm delighted to be speaking with Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland, the former UN Commissioner for Human Rights and two time UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. She's also the founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice. Thank you very much for joining me here today Mary.
Mary Robinson: Pleasure.
RG: The first thing I wanted to talk to you about really was, we're now about three years on since the Paris Agreement, and at that time there's a huge amount of optimism about how the global community was going forward to tackle climate change. Obviously this week we had the IPCC report which gave pretty damning results really about what we're doing and how effective it is being. I wondered do you still have any optimism and what can we do to tackle this problem?
MR: [00:00:46] Well I learned a very wise response to ‘are you an optimist or optimism’ from Archbishop Desmond Tutu when we were on a panel together in New York and a journalist interrupted him to some extent and said, ‘Archbishop Tutu, why are you such an optimist?’ And he said, ‘no, no dear, I'm not an optimist. I'm a prisoner of hope.’ So I'm a prisoner of hope. And it is true that we came away from Paris believing that this was a really important agreement and knowing it wasn't a very strong one, sort of required political will. And there was some kind of slippage even before President Trump decided that he'd pull the United States out, which he can't do until the 4th November 2020. But countries just didn't seem to really understand that they had to now step up to the plate and implement what they had committed to and implement the financing for developing countries [00:01:45] and that has been worrying. In the United States, it's quite clear there's a complete divide between the federal level and the fossil fuel level. And a lot of cities, states, business, civil society, philanthropy all very keen. I saw that in the California Summit a few weeks ago and they’re are very, very keen to increase the urgency. And during the Climate Week in New York there was a lot of emphasis on we need to increase the urgency. But I think we're all still reeling after the report of the IPCC because that was an interesting report. It was requested by the Paris Agreement once the Paris Goals were set of staying well below 2 degrees Celsius and working for 1.5. And essentially the IPCC was asked to tell us first of all what's the difference between two degrees and 1.5 degrees in terms of risk? And secondly, how do we get to and stay at not more 1.5? And probably – almost the most important thing is how well the scientists spelt out that 1.5 is really a safe level that we need to stay at, not just for small island states that would otherwise go under, but all of us because of the prediction of worst storms, drought, loss of species and all kinds of issues. But anything above that and we're getting closer to the tipping point problems losing the coral reefs, losing the arctic etc, and the arctic ice. And I think that was a real warning and then what we have to do about it was also very stark because we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 in order to have any chance of reaching that 1.5 and staying not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial standards. So I hope that this will be a sufficient wakeup call for the world because we have time but not much time. And we have a lot to do.
RG: [00:04:07] And you mentioned obviously President Trump has said he will withdraw, be it, it won't happen until the day after their next election – that's the first time it will be possible for them to withdraw from the Agreement. If he was sitting here right now would why echo the words probably that you've just said to me? But, what would you say to him to convince them that he really has to take it seriously?
MR: I think I'd probably want to probe what it is that he's trying to do in not only [00:04:38] appearing to deny the reality of climate change but putting people into key positions that are worsening the health situation and the environmental situation for the people of the United States. It doesn't make sense. I would really want to know what is inside his head that he thinks that this is a good idea.
RG: [00:04:56] Yep. That would be a very interesting conversation I think. And obviously he's coming from the point of view of an industrial, an industrialised nation. And if we look at other nations that were involved in the Paris Agreement we had developing nations and developed nations which is great. Do you think that enough underrepresented voices and particularly women and this is really a theme in your book, Climate Justice, do you think enough of them were represented in the agreement and what more could be done to help them?
MR: [00:05:22] Well when I first attended a climate conference which was in Copenhagen because I came late to the issue as I've often said I didn't make the connection when I was High Commissioner for Human Rights that was subsequently. But when I went into my first climate conference I could not believe what a male world it was, there seemed to be no perception of the gender dimensions of climate change, that [00:05:43] if you undermine livelihoods it's women who get hurt more because of their role in society because, especially in developing countries, they have to put food on the table, they have to go further for the water if there's drought, further for firewood etc. And yet there were not very many women, there were women who chaired conferences on climate and I managed to get at a troika of women leaders on climate change together that my foundation is the Secretariat of. And we worked very hard with a big constituency of women that began to grow, you know, women delegates to get gender into the into the climate world and we got the Gender Action Plan adopted the year after the Paris Agreement and under the chairmanship of Fiji, a small island state.[00:06:33] The conference was in Bonn but Fiji were in the chair and they said we want this to be people-centred, we want to have a strong sense of human rights and gender. And that helped a lot. When you have that leadership. For that for that year in the conference. And so, you know, it is important that we would have more women in particular, not just women ministers, women heads of agencies in the UN system itself but also grassroots women. What my foundation has found is that when we bring a pastoralist Agnes Lemur from Kenya who talks passionately about the impacts on Europe of the drought but also of a wind farm that was done without any regard for the pastoralist land. And when we have (Constance O’Kellet) who’s the first story in the book on climate justice, speaking with that slow dignified voice that she has about the impacts the poverty, the undermining, the really, you know, the reality of people's lives and that she is witnessing at the moment because of the change and the climate shocks that they constantly have to cope with it has a real impact. I've seen heads of state and government lean forward and listen because you know they're hearing what they don't hear from delegates with their UN speak and their acronyms and they're you know, kind of parsing sentences rather than talking about realities.
RG: [00:08:05] Yes exactly. And do you think that the UN Global Compact for an environment could actually change things as well?
MR: You mean the Compact for Migration?
RG: [00:08:16] The Global Pact for the Environment.
MR: Oh yes, the idea of a legal pact for the environment. Yes, the French idea.
MR: Yes, I think that it too seems to have slightly lost momentum and I think there is a need to kind of gather together the laws that exist in relation to protection the environment and in its many facets and then see if this can be further strengthened in some way by having a global compact. But, in the first year after Paris there was a strong meeting and Macron was able to really encourage heads of state and government to focus on that but I think since then I haven't seen the same momentum.
RG: And what about business and their role? Obviously we've talked about states and governments.
MR: Business I think has a real role to play now especially the non-fossil fuel business obviously because business leaders tend to have longer horizons in planning ahead than politicians, sadly politicians are caught up in the three or five year cycle to the next election, sometimes two years cycle. And business leaders have become more and more concerned. In Paris we had the broad gathering of We Mean Business and I am a part of a smaller leadership and business leadership called the B Team that made a commitment as business leaders in January of 2015, so 11 months before Paris, that they would be in their companies and their supply chains free of all fossil fuel by 2050 and net zero carbon fossil – greenhouse gas emission emissions by 2050. And since then they've taken this leadership and they've voiced it. Just the other day we wrote to the heads of government of the European Union countries saying Europe must do must be more ambitious about 2030 and we want the European Union now to make that commitment to be, net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and then work backwards to what needs to be done to get there. And this was before the 1.5 report, the 1.5 degree report. Now it makes even more sense.
RG: The pressure is on.
RG: [00:10:43] And lastly if I may, obviously you've often said really that a lot of your drive towards seeking climate justice is related to thinking about your grandchildren and future generations. I wanted to put to you really about, thinking about future generations in the UK we've got this huge question about leaving the EU – which will be happening in March next year – given your position obviously as former President of Ireland, what do you see as the impact on future generations both side of the border?
MR: It's a very interesting question and it's actually hard to predict because we don't yet know [00:11:18] what kind of Brexit, [00:11:19] what exactly will happen. It seems strange, I mean it's going to happen on 29th of March and yet the colour of it, the shape of it. We can't get hold of it yet. We know what Theresa May wants in her Brexit but we know that there are hard Brexiteers and we know that there are those who want a second referendum. So it's very hard to say but it is a pity that what was built up, in not only good relations on the island of Ireland, the fact that we had you know the Peace Agreement that we were proud of and talked about all over the world, the Good Friday Agreement of what was built on the executive, now the executive in Northern Ireland hasn't been functioning as we know for a while. [00:12:02] But en principe it's still there and needs to function and the relations between the British and Irish Government were very good it's consolidated by our joint membership of the European Union. Now what this will mean for future generations if Brexit happens and [00:12:20] I doubt if it's going to be a very smooth passage whatever happens you know, it is worrying and in particular if there's a border and I do think I would be very worried that there are people lying in the long grass just waiting to do mischief and if they can do it then do it economically but they can also do it in other ways. And I would fear that I must say, I am a prisoner of hope as I mentioned and I very much hope for the best. And you know I'm proud of where Ireland is at the moment and the Republic of Ireland with our two recent referenda. And you know economically we're doing well. I would love to see you know, on both sides of the island of Ireland that we can prosper together in peace and harmony as we had been doing until the word Brexit became a term that we've become boringly familiar with.
RG: Yes exactly. Thank you very much Mary today.
RG: Thank you.