Mary Robinson castigates Trump for crossing line of values

‘We have to call out this government. Blame the Trump administration, not the people’

US president Donald Trump's repudiation of the Paris agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions showed that America could no longer be regarded as the world leader on progressive values, former Irish president and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson has said.

She said also that Trump may unknowingly have crossed a line with important centres of power within the US, a fact that could play against him in the 2018 mid-term elections in which all 435 House of Representative seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs. At present, the Republican party controls both houses.

Robinson said Trump was "an American problem and they have to resolve that problem". Speaking to The Irish Times, Robinson said the US president was not behaving rationally.

“I think [that in rejecting Paris] he may have crossed a line he doesn’t realise he’s crossed,” she said.


That line was that significant sections of corporate America, as well as several US states and cities, were committed to Paris, notwithstanding his rejection. Since Trump's announcement on Wednesday, three states – California, Washington and New York – have formed the United States Climate Alliance, which is supported by the governors of seven other states.

They and several cities, notably Boston and Chicago, have said they will implement the Paris agreement.

Corporate America

Through her involvement with the B Team, a not-for-profit grouping of international business figures committed to the idea that business should be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit, she knew corporate America did not agree with Trump.

“There’s an enormous traffic of CEOs at the highest level saying climate change is real, this is the wrong decision, we don’t agree etc etc,” said Robinson. “More significantly in terms of the political ramifications, states and cities are actively going the other way. They’re moving rapidly towards renewable energy and energy efficiency because it’s good for jobs and good for their businesses.”

The solar power sector already employed over 370,000 people in the US, “far surpassing jobs in coal power generation [86,035], oil and gas extraction [about 18,000] and coal mining [about 50,000],” she said.

“I don’t think that Trump understands that dynamic well enough. He’s so fixated with the rust belt.”

The US president’s action – she characterised it as Trump casting himself as “big man, pulling out, saying it’s not fair to America” – made her “furious” because it was “so unjust”. America was the largest creator of the greenhouse gas problem and also had a moral obligation to help the poorest countries suffering the consequences of it, she said.

America was damaged significantly by his action, and should be seen as a “rogue state”.

Rogue behaviour

“When an international agreement is negotiated by 195 countries and signed in Paris and 147 of them, including the United States, ratify it, and then you have a change of government and the leader of that government completely disregards the commitments . . . that is rogue behaviour. It is really bad.

“We have to call out this government. On climate, blame the Trump administration, not the people of the United States,” she said.

She said it was ironic Trump’s action may result in galvanising people against his agenda to an extent that had not happened to date.

She would like to see other international bodies, such as Nato and the EU, say to him: "'You came and lectured us. . . Let us lecture you back: it is disgraceful that the United States etc.' I wish they would do more of that."

Trump’s presidency would cause “a shift in leadership in the world”.

“What will become evident is that America is no longer the leader on progressive values because of what Trump is doing,” said Robinson. “It puts a lot of responsibilities on the EU in particular and on countries like Canada, Australia etc, because China is all too ready to step into the gap but does not share fully these values and that is important.”

Other global players needed to show more leadership. No one was going to renegotiate Paris with the US. “It has to be people and planet first, not America first,” she said.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times