Climate change denial ‘malign and evil’, says Mary Robinson

Former president argues that denial robs world’s poorest of their human rights

Denial of climate change is not just ignorant, but "malign and evil", because it denies the human rights of the most vulnerable people on the planet, former president Mary Robinson has said.

In a speech to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in London on Tuesday after receiving the Kew International Medal for her "integral work on climate justice", Mrs Robinson said fossil fuel companies had lost their social licence to explore for more coal, oil and gas and must switch to become part of the transition to clean energy.

She said exploration for new reserves must end, given that most existing reserves must be kept in the ground if global warming is to be tackled.

Mrs Robinson underlined her support for climate protests, including the school strikes for climate initiated by "superstar" Greta Thunberg.


“There is room for civil disobedience as a way of communicating, though we also need hope.”

"Climate change undermines the enjoyment of the full range of human rights – from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. It is an injustice that the people who have contributed least to the causes of the problem suffer the worst impacts of climate change," added Mrs Robinson, who is chair of the Elders group of global leaders working for human rights.

Devastating impacts

Speaking to the Guardian before the ceremony, she said her angry words were the result of seeing the impact on people’s lives.

"In Africa I saw the devastating impacts on poor farmers, villagers and communities when they could not predict when the rainy season was going to come."

Her address coincided with confirmation from the International Energy Agency that carbon emissions rose to their highest levels last year after a surge in energy demand due to a strong economy and extreme weather.

Energy demand rose 2.3 per cent – its fastest rate since 2010 – and was met mainly by fossil fuels. That pushed global emissions to 33 billion tonnes, up 1.7 per cent from 2017.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times