Environment + Climate

A conversation with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, on climate change

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Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and advocate for climate justice
Roberto Gudino/UCLA

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change, has become a strong advocate for climate justice for the poorest countries and communities being impacted by the crisis.

Mary Robinson started her career with a deep passion for human rights from many different perspectives — economic and social to food, education, women’s rights, security and peace.

It was only later, while serving as the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change, that the former president of Ireland says she saw the link between human rights and climate change. Her work and travels in Africa made her aware that climate changes were tied to uncertainties of drought and flooding and that “something was happening.”

Robinson shared the story of her awakening to the global impact of climate change on the world's impoverished  countries and communities at a lecture hosted by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Tuesday before a packed audience in UCLA’s Charles E. Young Grand Salon. Former Los Angeles Times writer and editor Jim Newton, now a lecturer in communications studes and at the Luskin school, then moderated a discussion and Q&A session that covered the impact of the recent Paris Climate Agreement, among other topics.

Robinson said she heard again and again in countries, such as Liberia, that “things were getting so much worse.” In areas where the focus was traditionally on poverty or other issues, there were now areas where the climate — and planting and harvest times — could no longer be predicted.

“We needed to be talking about the injustice of climate change,” which affects the poor and most vulnerable, even the U.S. Robinson, who served as a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights until 2002, cited the lingering impact of Hurricane Katrina on the poor in the U.S.

Robinson, organizer of two foundations, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, said she was energized by the talks in Paris, which provided a new way of describing the problem, and was encouraged that nearly 200 countries all agreed on making individual contributions toward carbon emission reduction.

“It was actually a fair agreement, not strong but fair — that was extraordinary,” said Robinson.  She said that the Paris Agreement provided a new target for the world. “It put a stake in the ground.”

Read the complete story on the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website.

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