Friday, July 31, 2015

A Voice for Climate Justice

Of the many high-visibility figures associated with the global climate movement, Mary Robinson may have the best claim to the moral high ground. Her admired service as President of the Irish Republic elevated her to that stage, but her decision to take on the job of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made her humanitarian ambitions clearer still. Now she runs a foundation in her own name, dedicated to climate resilience and mitigation, and in that capacity she is worth listening to, as in this short interview.

What particular claims does she bring to the climate discussion as it moves toward Paris? Her position can be summed up in the phrase 'Climate Justice,' but she moves beyond the phrase to the realities at ground or sea level. When President Tong of the island nation of Kiribati announces planning for his people's "migration with dignity," Robinson adds her voice to his, declaring "no world leader should have to plan" for such a contingency. Whether on behalf of African farmers, mostly women, whose crops are threatened with irregular weather patterns, or peasants whose lands risk inundation for 'green' hydro-electric projects, Robinson's exposure to the world's poor enables her to articulate the dilemmas and impending catastrophes that threaten the least responsible, most vulnerable populations. What should we notice particularly in her remarks?

  • Green climate funding: while others are wondering how the Fund will ever reach the promised level of $100 billion by 2020, Robinson suggests that much more--as much as $300 billion annually--would be a more realistic number, both to build resilient infrastructure in threatened locales and to mitigate the inevitable dislocations and disasters from rising seas and changing weather. This funding gap--that's us, the global rich, she's talking about--now looms as perhaps the greatest challenge to global consensus at Paris.
  • Migrants and refugees: like others, Robinson sees in the growing migrant pressure of  displaced Africans on Europe the first signs of much greater displacements to come. While her first emphasis is resilience, that is, adaptations that will enable people to remain in their homelands, she also notes that "the world is grossly underprepared" for the migratory pressures that climate change will cause.
  • Women: Robinson is particularly aware that the burdens of adaptation and community will fall disproportionately on women, who are already the binding agents in many at-risk societies, and she is concerned to elevate a class of female leaders who will be able to weigh in on the adaptations and emergency measures to come.
It is easy to get lost in the complex discussions of alternative technologies and projected changes in greenhouse gas emissions, in the multiplicity of national INDC plans and changing data for understanding the often inscrutable operations of climate. In the face of such uncertainties Robinson's moral compass--like the pope's--is sure, and her leadership a welcome turning to the human realities that will define us as a species as the century wears on.

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