Mary Robinson on climate and development

By Adva Saldinger 26 April 2016

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the president of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice. Photo by: Simon Ruf / UN Social Media Team / CC BY-ND

Representatives of 175 countries gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York last week to sign the historic Paris climate agreement that was adopted in December. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the opportunity of the signing to highlight the link between climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The era of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies. And we must support developing countries in making this transition. The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create,” he said.

The signing of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change now sets off the domestic ratification process: only after at least 55 countries who are party to the UNFCCC and account for at least 55 percent of the world’s emissions ratify the agreement does it enter into force.

Devex caught up with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the president of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, at the Skoll World Forum last week to talk about the link between climate and development and next steps on climate action. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

For many years, the climate action and development communities have been fairly separate. How can those two groups build stronger linkages? How can the development community better address climate, and what do you see as the next steps for the Paris agreement?

I think essentially we now have to bring the 2030 agenda and the Paris agreement together and integrate them in a very fundamental way and realize that they are part of the same issue. Climate change is undermining development, therefore we must have climate action that furthers development and peoples’ rights.

What do we mean when we talk about resilience in the face of climate change?

The first step toward securing more resilient communities around the world is to ensure that the new climate agreement makes the links between states existing human rights obligations and their future climate action, writes Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, in this exclusive commentary.

It’s really important that the 2030 Agenda and the Paris agreement together form a very broad agenda — it’s an economic agenda, it’s a social agenda, it’s an environmental agenda, it’s a political agenda, so let’s not silo it. I think that’s really important. And also let’s get urgent ... but also let’s not make mistakes again like we’ve done before in taking action.

We need to ensure the agenda is one that is embraced in every household. We haven’t been able to do that with development because development was for developing countries. But the 2030 Agenda is the domestic agenda for all countries.

We have to look at the [sustainable development] goals and look at the goal on production and consumption — look at the goal on waste, on oceans, obviously equality, etc. — and think of this being a new way of living that is ensuring that we would be sustainable with the earth, which is our common home.

I think this is really very exciting. It’s a great agenda for young people; it’s a great agenda for jobs; it’s a great agenda for better living; it’s a great agenda for fairness; it’s a great agenda for justice. So how do we get that narrative across.

Many of the countries that are and will be hardest hit by climate change are developing countries that have the least ability to pay. How can those countries get the financing they need to meet climate goals?

The road to Paris, the fact that we switched from a top down to bottom-up [intended nationally determined contribution] approach that included all countries means that, in effect, poorer developing countries take on more burden, and therefore they need all the more the solidarity and support of the developed world. Because more development has to take place in developing countries, that’s what we need: the infrastructure, the transportation system, all the aspects of taking people out of poverty that fossil fuel [achieved] for developed countries.

We’ve changed part of the dynamic. It’s good that all countries are involved, but we have to recognize that it is more of a burden for developing countries. Therefore we need the private sector to understand the need for them to become more engaged in investing in developing countries, and we need clever ways for taking out the risks.

The Commonwealth is thinking of ways of doing [this]. Without that, we will not get the mixture of public and private investment in developing countries that we need. It’s not going to be just the public sector. The public sector [is experiencing] shrinking to some extent of [overseas development assistance] budgets, and with problems in Europe, some of the development aid [is] being diverted to deal with migrants in Europe. Come on, we need private investment that is given the confidence that the risk is covered. Then [private investment] will come in, because actually it’s profitable to come in at the end of the day — but it’s riskier.

You mentioned the role of the private sector how do you get the private sector more engaged? You are also passionate about getting women involved in climate change, what do you see as their role?

I think it’s important to write up the success stories. Getting those stories out that there is money to be made, profit to be made, and there’s nothing wrong with that — in investing in renewables.

Even more than that the risks of remaining invested in fossil fuels, we’re talking increasingly a language of stranded assets and more and more people like [Mark] Carney, [the governor of the Bank of England,] are saying do your risk assessments. Companies know now that to be invested in fossil fuels is not a good idea. They don’t want to admit it, but they know it. I think we need the positive examples to be written up. There are many, and we don’t hear enough about them.

Women can help a lot, because women are more involved in collegiate action in this area, in which women in investment can come together, women in foundations can come together, women ministers are coming together. We’re involved in a troika on women leaders on climate change. That’s a way women engage and I think that can make a difference. We need to do all of it with more ambition — and quicker.

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About the author

Adva%2520saldinger%2520photo
Adva Saldinger@AdvaSal

As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.


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