The Social and Legal Aspects of Climate Change
Edited by Anna Grear and Conor Gearty
Chapter 4: An interview with Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice
CONOR GEARTY: You started the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. Why do you think the language of ‘climate justice’ is so important? MARY ROBINSON: Climate change is often framed as an environmental issue – the language we use, the people who talk about it, have often indicated that this is primarily a technical issue, a scientific issue. Climate justice, with its foundations in human rights and development, takes a different approach. Climate justice makes climate change an issue about people. Climate change undermines human rights to food, water, education and shelter. It forces population movement and gives rise to conflict. A climate justice approach aims to find just and fair solutions to the climate crisis while protecting people and their rights. CONOR GEARTY: Is promoting justice the same as fighting injustice? Do you think the idea of ‘climate injustice’ adds anything to the discussion? MARY ROBINSON: I think when you talk about climate justice you have to start with the injustices that climate change creates. You need to talk about individuals and how climate change impacts their lives. When I talk to people about climate justice, I often find it most effective to engage them first on the injustices that we seek to put right. CONOR GEARTY: As part of your climate justice efforts, you talk about giving voice to the voiceless. Is this about amplifying voices or giving people a chance to speak for themselves? MARY ROBINSON: It’s not that people don’t have a voice. Everyone can speak about what is important to them – their needs, wants and dreams. The problem is that far too often those without power are not heard. That’s why it’s important to include grassroots voices in international processes such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the post-2015 development agenda. At the Hunger – Nutrition – Climate Justice Conference that my Foundation co-hosted with the Irish Government in Dublin last year, for example, almost a third of those attending were on-the-ground grassroots practitioners from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Antigua, Vanuatu, Mongolia, Colombia and the Philippines. These are the people that development discussions are often about, but these engagements too often occur without their actual participation. Yet nothing gives greater validity to a discussion on hunger, nutrition and climate justice than hearing firsthand from the people who deal with these issues on a daily basis. As Mitchell Lay from Antigua said at that forum, ‘No-one can represent you like you can represent yourself’.
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