Robinson calls on US to act on climate change


The US “must now increase its ambition” in tackling climate change and US president Barack Obama “needs to give that leadership”, former Irish president Mary Robinson said yesterday.

She told the final session of a business-orientated World Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar, that New York City had turned out to be “surprisingly ill-equipped” to deal with Hurricane Sandy, but poorer people with no insurance were suffering more.

“We have to change the narrative [on climate change] and make it more people-centred. It’s not just about melting ice flows in the Arctic, but about the face of a poor farmer in Africa who can no longer provide food for her family,” she said.

She reminded those attending the summit – sponsored by Philips, Siemens, BMW and other global firms – there were “business opportunities” in a world where 1.6 billion people still had no electricity.

Mrs Robinson expressed delight at a weekend decision by negotiators at the UN conference – championed by her Dublin-based climate justice foundation – that would “dramatically increase” women’s participation in future talks.

Gender balance

The aim is to achieve some “gender balance”, in line with a decision made at an earlier conference more than 10 years ago. Since then, however, little has changed and women’s representation is as low as 10 per cent in some cases.

The former president said: “We also have to think about inter-generational equity. I now have four grandchildren who will be in their 40s by 2050, and that’s just around the corner. What will they say if we don’t act on the science?” EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard warned that the power of “those who lobby for nothing to happen” should not be underestimated, which was why the message about climate change needed to be repeated over and over again.

“It’s very clear that the world is not on an ambitious track. But we’re pushing very hard, and there will be a five-hour ministerial round-table on Wednesday,” she said. Possible actions include phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

Long-term thinking

“It’s not ill-will, but politicians are up to here trying to handle today and tomorrow,” she said. “The business community needs to help us get rid of short-termism and inject long-term thinking into the political discourse, so we can get where we want to go.”

She called for “strong US involvement”, saying it would be “incredibly important for us to get the deal we need by 2015”.

She was “very encouraged” to hear Mr Obama admit recently that not enough was being done for the climate.

In his victory speech following the US presidential election, Mr Obama said: “We want our children to live in an America that is not burdened by debt, that is not weakened by inequality, that is not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

But Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-president of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, likened the world to a ship that was sinking and its captain not listening to the alarm bells from the third-class passengers.

“The first thing is to listen much more closely to what scientists are saying, because there will be no business when there is a climate crisis – and we are now at the beginning of that climate crisis,” he told the business leaders.