In her new role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, Mary Robinson’s task is nothing short of convincing very reluctant world leaders to stop dithering and to respond with the urgency warranted by the threat of climate change, writes Niamh Garvey, Policy Officer
The role is fitting for the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, as there is no greater threat to human rights across the board than climate change.
It threatens the right to food, the right to water, the right to shelter and the right to life.
This new role will be an immense challenge, but also an incredibly timely one. By the end of next year global leaders are due to agree an historic global deal to prevent runaway climate change, and as Special Envoy, Mary Robinson’s role will be to convince them to make the decisions and take the actions on climate change that they’ve so long evaded.
This will require Presidents and Prime Ministers to transcend their narrow national self-interests in order to take the really tough but vital decisions to protect people and the natural world on which we all depend.
While there are some encouraging signs, including recently announced co-ordinated action on climate change by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, progress among all world leaders to negotiate an international treaty on climate change is moving at a glacial pace towards a deadline for agreement in Paris at the end of next year.
As founder of the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation, Mary Robinson’s approach will be much more than about getting any agreement.
A ‘climate justice’ approach, which Trócaire has been calling for since 2007, means that we not only tackle the problem of climate change, but do so in such a way that ensures the most vulnerable people who are hit hardest whilst having done the least to cause the problem put at the centre of the response. Mary Robinson is a powerful voice for such communities and we wish her every success with this role.
Mary Robinson pictured with Trócaire partners at the climate change negotiations in Durban in 2010
A first milestone will happen in September later this year when her boss, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon holds a Climate Summit in New York. He has invited global leaders, including our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to come and make announcements on what they are doing to advance progress on the response to climate change. He has set the bar high and it will be an important milestone for generating momentum towards a global deal.
With an Irish woman in the high profile role of putting the case for climate action, will the Taoiseach announce enough of substance to make Ireland one of Mary Robinson’s ‘star’ or ‘problem’ countries?
This question will be to a large degree answered by the new face of climate policies at home. The recent Cabinet reshuffle has seen ‘Big Phil’ (Phil Hogan) head to Europe, and Alan Kelly take up the position of Minister for Environment and Local Government.
Action in this Department, including delivering the long-standing commitment to bring in legislation on climate change, will set the tone for what the Taoiseach will be able to announce. The “Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill’ as it is known, is vital to putting Ireland on track for a low carbon future.
Despite being in the programme for government since 2011 it has been an uphill struggle to get this piece of legislation past the post. An apparent u-turn by Minister Hogan back in November 2011 nearly took the Bill off the table altogether, but with lots of support from our campaigners, over 7,600 of who have taken action to call for the Bill, concerned citizens have managed to keep the issue alive.
Minister Kelly has inherited a draft Heads of Bill that is yet to be formally published by the Government and still needs to go through the Oireachtas.
To make his mark in this area, he should put the Climate Bill on the ‘A list’ for the new Dail term, and implement the recommendations of the cross-party Oireachtas Committee on the Environment report to address the current draft’s weaknesses.
It we want to do Mary Robinson proud, this Bill together with Ireland’s ‘fair share’ of climate finance to support developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change would provide the Taoiseach with the substance he needs to announce Ireland’s action at the Ban Ki Moon Summit in September in New York.
It would be a strong signal that Ireland is prepared to play our part in getting world leaders collectively on track to delivering a global deal on climate change in 2015.