Robinson becomes pescatarian, urges people to ‘get angry’ over climate change

Former president says climate justice ‘a medical emergency’ at RCSI award ceremony

Climate justice campaigner and former president Mary Robinson. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Those who wish to make a meaningful contribution to tackling climate change should make it a personal issue in their lives and do something, climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson has said.

She had become a pescatarian, eating fish but not meat, she said, though she loved to eat lamb from the west of Ireland. There were many ways people could pursue climate action, such as reducing waste or recycling more.

“Having done your bit,” she said, “get angry” in the pursuit of transformative policies to tackle climate change from businesses, governments and other sectors such as agriculture.

In an address after she was presented with the Emily Winifred Dickson Award by Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, the former president said the third step she favoured was imagining what a world of clean energy, "a healthy world" with no fossil fuels, would look like in coming decades. The other vital ingredient, she believed, was hope as "it creates energy and doing".


Referring to carbon tax increases – which the Government are considering – she said it was “really important that the tax be seen to be fair”. Moving to a decarbonised world required a just transition, Mrs Robinson added, noting the poor were more reliant on solid fuels.

The rise in diesel tax which sparked the gilets jaunes protests in France, was a case of "the right thing to do but done in the wrong way", she said, as the tax hit those on low incomes and those driving for a living hardest.

Climate justice

Speaking on climate justice and a healthy environment, she said, a High Court decision in 2017, which for the first time recognised a constitutional right to environmental protection consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens "moved the agenda significantly".

However, the lack of a clear textual basis to the decision could lead to legal uncertainty, “and may encourage citizens to turn to the courts to effect change rather than the political system”.

She noted the latest Lancet Countdown report had warned that older people in mainland Europe were more vulnerable to heatwaves compared with those in Africa. The report also warned of increased disease, such as a higher incidence of Lyme disease in Ireland. It had concluded climate justice was "a medical emergency", but it also highlighted that a comprehensive response "could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century".

Emily Winifred Dickson became the first female fellow of RCSI in 1893, making her the first female fellow of any of the surgical royal colleges in Britain and Ireland. The award recognises women who have made an outstanding contribution in their field.

RCSI chief executive Prof Cathal Kelly said Mrs Robinson's work, particularly as UN high commissioner for human rights and through the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, "has made an impact globally for those who are marginalised across the world".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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