Irish private sector must commit to ‘net-zero’ emissions, says Mary Robinson

Centre for Environmental Justice to help communities impacted by climate disruption

The private sector in Ireland is not doing enough to embrace climate action by committing to achieving "net-zero carbon emissions at the latest by 2050", according to climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson.

Speaking following the opening of Ireland’s first Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), which will help communities disrupted by climate change, the forrmer President of Ireland said 2021 was a critical year for global action.

She noted countries will convene in Glasgow next November at COP26.

Ireland had to lead in delivering more ambition and by increasing its national determined contributions which were at the heart of the Paris Agreement, she said.


The private sector also needed to be more involved – as was happening elsewhere. It required committing to net-zero by mid century, “and working backwards from that, in terms of what it means”.

Developed countries had to wean off fossil fuels including Ireland which generates too much emissions on a per capita basis, she said.

This also required helping to deliver clean energy for developing countries, but not enough solidarity was being shown in this regard, added Mrs Robinson, who is adjunct professor for climate justice at Trinity College Dublin.


Insufficient attention was being paid to “the injustice to nature herself” including the deployment of nature-based solutions in responding to the climate crisis. This required stronger links between the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity, which was seek the protection of 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of oceans in the world.

This meant emphasising biodiversity and reforestation at a local level, she added.

There were clear lessons from Covid-19 on how to address the climate crisis; just as “collective human behaviour us protecting used from the virus”, it had to be harnessed to make a more sustainable world, she said. In addition, “governments matter”, but just as health experts were leading policy on Covid, “we need the same attention paid to climate scientists as we go forward.

There was more compassion in the world and acknowledgement of the fragility of the human species as a consequence of the pandemic, and more awareness of the suffering of others around the world, she believed. “That was not there before. I think we should build on this.”

At a local level, the CEJ would provide empathy for those suffering due to effects of the climate crisis, the former President said. With the EU talking of "a climate pact", whereby people and communities participate in building a greener Europe, the centre could also be "a thought leader" and force for implementation of this initiative, Mrs Robinson suggested.

The centre is being run by Community Law & Mediation, a community law centre and charity with offices in Dublin and Limerick.

CLM chief executive Rose Wall said the centre "will work to ensure climate change and environmental harms do not result in greater social injustice or increased inequality, and that climate action measures and environmental policies are informed by the need to protect and enhance fairness and equality."

Human crisis

Initially, it would engage in capacity building in the community, through collaborations with the Irish Local Development Network, An Taisce, Tasc Climate Justice Centre and other organisations. “It will also seek to advance legislative and policy change through strategic casework and law reform submissions,” she added – a free legal advice clinic is provided for individual and community queries.

“The climate crisis is not just an environmental one – it is a health crisis, a housing crisis, a jobs crisis, a debt crisis and ultimately a human crisis – a crisis that is not being, and will not be, borne equally by all,” Ms Wall added.

Environmental justice ensured marginalised groups were not disproportionately impacted by climate change or other environmental harms, and that the State’s response to environmental challenges was informed by principles of inclusivity and fairness, she said.

In their community law centres, they had already seen how climate change interacts with the issues experienced by the communities they work with, including energy poverty, housing, employment and health. “We are already working with communities affected by issues linked to environmental justice, including flooding, health concerns related to poor air quality, and poor housing conditions,” she said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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