World leaders need to be ‘10 times more ambitious’ on climate change action, says Mary Robinson

Former president suggests clash with Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber may have helped give scientists more central role in event

Mary Robinson said she had a lot of sympathy for farmers. Photograph: Phil Behan/DFA

The international community needs to be far more ambitious in its approach to tackling climate change, Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson has said in the wake of Wednesday’s agreement at Cop28 in Dubai.

The agreement recognised “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and called for parties to play a part in “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

There has been criticism, however, of the lack of firm commitments on the actions to be taken and Ms Robinson said the world’s leaders needed to show a great deal more urgency on the issue.

“We need to be more ambitious to meet the targets, not twice as ambitious but 10 times as ambitious,” she told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Thursday.

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“And we need to do it in a way that everybody feels included and not victimised. That includes the farmers. I think we need a real conversation with farmers, to bring home and address the issues relating to farming

“I’m very sympathetic to the way farmers feel, particularly with the bad weather this year but it could be worse next year. We are in a new situation and we need to adapt to it with the sort of farming that will reduce emissions, reduce the use of nitrates etc.”

Ms Robinson suggested her public altercation with Cop28′s president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber in advance of the event may have helped give scientists a more central role in the event.

During the public exchange Sultan Al-Jaber said he was “not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist. There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 degrees.”

He also suggested there phasing out fossil fuels would not allow for sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Robinson said she had spoken with Sultan Al-Jaber again during the conference but said she had been told the original exchange, which caused a good deal of consternation internationally as Cop28 got under way, had had a significant impact on the process that unfolded.

“Scientists came up to me and said ‘thank you, you have put the science right at the centre of this process,’ and that’s why I think we were able to get the moving away from fossil fuels that we got.

“Scientists told me that they had more of a role to play, they were more at the centre of this Cop than ever before because Sultan Al-Jaber had said in his first conversation with me there’s no science that says we need to be at 1.5 or whatever. That really caused scientists worldwide to row in on the issue.”

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times