Sunday 17 November 2019

'Greta made me cry, but climate change protests risk alienating public' - Mary Robinson

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Nina Massey

Former president Mary Robinson has revealed teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg moved her to tears.

But Ms Robinson, now the UN special envoy on El Niño and climate, warned Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters they risked alienating the public if they did not employ smarter tactics.

She also praised the work of Swedish activist Ms Thunberg, saying her address at the UN's Climate Action Summit last month brought her to tears.

She said: "I think what Greta and her generation are doing is humanising the issue of climate change. I was in the UN General Assembly during the Climate Action Summit, and when I heard her say, 'You have stolen my childhood' - a 16-year-old - I cried, actually."

Speaking to the PA news agency at the Aurora Forum in Yerevan, Armenia, Dr Robinson said climate change protests were one way of causing disruption, but that the most effective method was through investors, asset managers, and pension funds.

She added: "I see no significant move on the part of the emitters to change.

"So I now feel it's time for disruption - and disruption takes many forms.

"Disruption can be litigation, disruption can be shareholder questions at meetings, disruption of a very effective thought can be when investors are warning about being invested in stranded assets.

"And disruption can be bottom up - the schoolchildren, the young people, the Extinction Rebellion, the women leaders.

"But the most effective is the investors. If they can really move that needle, it can move very fast."

Asked about Extinction Rebellion protests in London last week which saw public transport targeted, Mrs Robinson said the activists need to keep people on side.

She explained: "I hope they will be very smart about their tactics, because if they alienate the public that will put us a step backwards.

"So far, on the whole, they have been quite clever they've been funny.

"They've been apologetic for the disruption caused because they don't want to alienate the public. But then there are some who want to go further.

"I think it is very, very important that the public display of disruption is seen by the public as being in their interests, and that has happened.

"But if they lose that, that would be very serious."

Dr Robinson became the first woman president of the Republic of Ireland in 1990.

She is also a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2014, she was appointed to oversee UN efforts to tackle climate change.

Last November, she was appointed chairwoman of peace and human rights campaigning group The Elders.

Irish Independent

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