The need to change the narrative on climate change

Having been an enthusiastic participant in the Helsinki Process, I believe it lends itself to greater progress on tackling climate change.  In essence, a key message from the deliberations of the Helsinki Process was that change in the twenty first century can best be brought about by building broad partnerships between governments, private sector, civil society, philanthropists and academia.

 What we need in the context of climate change is to dramatically increase the urgency and the ambition.  The recent report of the World Bank ‘Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided’ brings home how urgent the situation is.  We know that we are not on course for staying below 2°Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which governments committed to at the climate conference in Cancun in 2010.  Instead we are drifting towards the possibility of a 3.5 or 4°Celsius world by 2050.  This is what the World Bank report says of a 4° world:

 “The 4°C scenarios are devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.

 And most importantly, a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs.”

 It was because I recognised the huge threat to all human rights that was posed by climate change that I established the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ).  More recently MRFCJ has combined with the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington DC to launch the Climate Justice Dialogue.  The Dialogue aims to mobilise political will to shape an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015.  This will be done by creating broad constituencies of demand for equity in the climate debate.  This goes beyond equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, to also embrace equity in supporting adaptation in vulnerable, already affected communities; equity in the transfer of renewable technologies as part of the right to development of poor communities and equity in financing to ensure that climate funds reach those suffering most from climate change and who have contributed least to the cause.  The Climate Justice Dialogue will produce a flagship report towards the end of 2014 to coincide with the IPCC’s 5 year review and other scientific data.  I hope that collectively these reports can inform work ongoing to deliver on the decision at the climate convention in Durban, South Africa to shape a new climate agreement by 2015 to come into effect in 2020.  Scientific data alone will not compel politicians to act: we need the urgency of a people-centred narrative that generates political will.

 I would like to invite the countries that have committed to the Helsinki Process, and the other stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, philanthropic organisations, academia, and faith leaders, to become part of this climate justice dialogue so that we can marshal our resources and ensure that we accept the moral and political responsibility to create a safe world for our children, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren.  We need to think and act inter-generationally and with urgency, and get political leaders to think and act inter-generationally to ensure we have a livable planet later this century.

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson is the first elected President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. In 2010 she set up the Mary Robison Climate Justice Foundation which aims to be a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten - the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world. Ms Robison is one of the original members of the Helsinki Process Group.