Tuesday 16 July 2019

'We are running out of time to save the world'

Ahead of the UN climate change summit, Mary Robinson tells how she fears for her grandchildren's future and makes the case for urgent action.

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

MARY Robinson fears what kind of world her grandchildren will inherit if we fail to tackle climate change.

The planet is facing "catastrophic climate shocks", she says, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other heads of state must be "ambitious" and make a clear commitment to cut emissions when they meet at a UN climate summit next week.

The UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on Climate Change says that as a grandmother of five, she cannot stand over a "business as usual" scenario. Political leaders have a "real responsibility" to reduce emissions and protect future generations, she warns.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, she said a lack of leadership on global warming would have "inter-generational" consequences.

"I think about my five grandchildren who will be in their 40s in 2050 and will share the world with nine billion others," she said. "It will be a world that will find it very difficult to feed itself, because there will be far more droughts, far more cyclones and far more catastrophic climate shocks.

"And what will they say about us? Because we had a chance to make the right decisions and it's that kind of real responsibility. We have to do it, together with work on sustainable development goals, and we have to do it in 2015."

Children pictured as they make their way home after school in the Kamanyaki area of Kenya.
Children pictured as they make their way home after school in the Kamanyaki area of Kenya.
Trocaire's Paul Healy pictured in his office at the Trocaire HQ in Nairobi, Kenya.
Farmer Jermeigh Nyaga pictured with some of the corn and tomatoes which he grows on his farm in the Kamaynaki area of Kenya.
91 year old farmer, Bermard Njue Kabururu pictured on his farm in the Kamanyaki region of Kenya

Mrs Robinson is president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, and was speaking on the eve of a UN Summit of world leaders in New York. Heads of state will begin arriving from tomorrow and will outline their commitments to address global warming, including providing finance for developing nations to adapt.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited more than 120 leaders to discuss the issue in advance of formal talks in Paris next year where it is hoped a legally-binding agreement on tackling global warming will be struck. Marches aimed at mobilising political action will take place in several cities tomorrow.

The People's Climate Picnic will take place from 11.30am on Dublin's St Stephen's Green, while Mrs Robinson will attend a similar event in New York.

"In New York, the huge march from civil society, plus the marches in other cities, will create a good pressure which needs to be kept up for the leaders and the actions needed," she said.

The commitments from leaders, to be revealed on Tuesday, will assist negotiators when they go to strike a deal in two so-called Conference of the Parties (COP) events, the first in Lima, Peru in December and the second in Paris in December 2015.

Mrs Robinson is one of three special envoys tasked with paving the way for governments to make commitments to tackle what she says is a "huge human rights issue".

The latest assessment report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the evidence for climate change is "unequivocal", with higher concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions produced from burning fossil fuels, an increase in global temperatures, and rising sea levels already recorded. The changes have occurred since the 1950s and had not been seen previously over millennia.

The changes will be "severe, pervasive and irreversible" unless action is taken, with temperatures expected to rise between 0.3C and 4.8C and sea levels to increase between 26cms and 82cms.

Scientists believe that keeping temperature rises below 2C may avoid the most catastrophic effects but that millions of people will still be affected by climatic changes, including those living in Ireland, which is expected to experience more severe storms and droughts in summer.

Mrs Robinson said the science was "unequivocal" but that the issue was not being taken seriously enough.

Ireland has yet to enact a Climate Change Act, which will set out the measures needed to reduce emissions from transport, agriculture and energy - the primary sources of carbon.

She warned that making the transition to a zero-carbon economy - with widespread use of public transport, wind and wave power and more energy-efficient homes - would be a difficult process.

"We cannot have business as usual with a little bit of green added. We need to change course - and it's not easy," she said.

"It means the Government has to prioritise how fast Ireland can move away from fossil fuels and into renewables. How can we have agriculture which is as climate-smart as possible so that we can continue to build up our agriculture? How can we have energy efficiency which is far more pronounced than now?

"The Taoiseach and other heads of state have to be saying 'We are changing course. We are not going to be doing business as usual'.

"If countries act now it will be cheaper in the long run. That's a change in mindset we have to make. It's good for the country, for jobs, for young people."

Mrs Robinson also said that use of wind energy has to be talked about "much more seriously and in a leadership way".

"I hope Enda Kenny will be ambitious for Ireland. I do think it's down to decisions of everyone, not in a 'this is going to make my life miserable' way.

"We've somehow got to get the momentum for action in climate being good for the country. Let's see about getting action in households, in schools, in transport, in the efficiency of buildings, in using the resources of an island that's got wind and water and get to a state of technology which will make us a leader in this.

"It will be difficult, but by no means impossible. If Ireland and other European countries can't step up to the plate, how can we expect large countries like China and India which have millions of poor people to take steps that will be hard for them?"

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Ms Robinson to relinquish her role as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa last July to take up her new position. She is one of three special envoys, along with former president of Ghana John Kufuor and Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway, tasked with engaging with leaders.

"I was very surprised when the Secretary General said I was doing good work, but he put it very nicely when he said 'I need you for climate change'. I think that's in part because he realises there are significant gender dimensions and there is a need for women leadership. This is a Secretary General who understands that climate change is the greatest threat of all. Climate change needs to be tackled now because we're running out of time.

"If we don't take action in the next decade or so - and we have to take those decisions now for that to happen - we risk a much greater pain and suffering for poor communities which are already suffering more than they used to and that's a terrible responsibility.

"I will work morning, noon and night for the next 15 months to make sure we get the right decisions. It matters now for poor communities that are hurting but it matters inter-generationally."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News