Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice

Q: How do you think the power of networks will help the world achieve a sustainable future?

Each one of us has a responsibility to help the people of the world achieve a sustainable future. The human rights of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens are being undermined by the devastating impacts of climate change. We see this when droughts cause mass starvation, or unexpected floods lead to the destruction of crops and homes. The poorest are often the most affected—with severe impacts on their rights to food, health, shelter, and even life—but they have done the least to cause this crisis.

The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice acknowledges this injustice and believes that mobilizing political leaders to elevate climate change to the highest levels of decision-making is crucial to finding a fair and effective response to the challenge.

Networks are hardly a new phenomenon. Those involved in international trade and banking have relied on networked organizations and strategies for centuries. But technological changes, an increasingly global economy, and demands for social justice have all combined to make collaboration through networks even more central in addressing global challenges. Our task is to ensure that the inherent flexibility and adaptability of networks is harnessed for the common good to ensure sustainable futures for all.

Q: Climate change is affecting almost every network in our society. Why is it important that we look at this challenge through a human lens?

Looking at climate change through a human lens helps us focus on how decisions taken by governments, businesses, and other powerful actors in one part of the world can lead to real injustices in the lives of individuals and communities far away. We need a new narrative for the crisis of a changing climate. By placing people at the center, we see the devastating effects of climate change here and now. The prospects for the most vulnerable will only worsen if we continue to head toward the tipping point of a world that is two degrees warmer. Climate justice makes sense, as it delivers results for climate change, development, and human rights.

Focusing on human stories highlights the need for equity, urgency, and ambition in any new global climate deal. As developed and emerging economies continue to grow, their carbon emissions threaten not only the security of our world’s most vulnerable people, but also the global security needed for business to thrive. The fact that many nations continue to wait to see how far others will go before acting on their own commitments is unacceptable, and we need more business leaders speaking out against this inaction. By adopting a rights-based approach to climate change, we can make the case that there are shared responsibilities moving forward and that those who have contributed most to the problem must take their fair share of the task at hand.

My foundation is currently working with the World Resources Institute on the Climate Justice Dialogue, an initiative that presents the human narrative of climate change and works to mobilize our political leaders to act. Later this month, the dialogue’s High Level Advisory Committee, which is made up of a diverse group of leaders from around the world, will launch its Declaration on Climate Justice. The declaration  sets out the things that global decision-makers, including those in business, must do to ensure an equitable and ambitious plan is put in place to tackle the injustice of climate change by 2015—the year when the global climate agreement and the post-2015 development agenda are due to be finalized.  

Hear more from Mary Robinson during her plenary address at the BSR Conference 2013.