Interview – Weak climate deal would harm new global goals: Robinson

This Interview with Mary Robinson was conducted by Megan Rowling and first published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation

A new set of U.N. development goals, due to be adopted later this month, will be undermined if an international deal to tackle climate change does not set the world on track to keep within a safe limit of global warming, top human rights advocate and U.N. envoy Mary Robinson said.

The former Irish president, who runs her own foundation for climate justice, said the new climate agreement, expected in December, should be “true to the science”.

That means making sure countries reduce their planet-warming carbon emissions by at least enough to stop the global average temperature rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times – “the upper limit of what we can tolerate”.

“The stark reality is that if we don’t get a climate agreement that is rigorous enough to begin to have us change course, then the Sustainable Development Goals are not very meaningful,” she said.

“We are going to increasingly see the impacts of climate change, particularly in the poorer countries and communities, but they will spread to everyone in a way that will undermine and roll back development,” Robinson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s special envoy on climate change said the issue had risen up the political agenda in recent years, pushing governments to make it a key part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will run until 2030.

“Many (nations) are actively feeling the impacts of climate change … on their people and their economies, and some of them – the small island developing states and the least developed countries – are urgently pleading, ‘This is really hurting us’,” Robinson said.

Ten of the 17 SDGs relate in some way to climate change, including one promising urgent action to combat global warming and its impacts, and others on ending hunger and providing water for all, she added.

Some could have been stronger, she noted. For example, the goal on ensuring access to affordable and modern energy does not give enough prominence to renewables such as solar, she said.

But the SDGs’ strong emphasis on gender equality, shifting to a sustainable model of consumption and production, and protecting ecosystems should boost the world’s efforts to address global warming in the coming five years, before the new climate deal takes effect in 2020, she argued.

“The Sustainable Development Goals create the enabling environment for increasing the ambition by 2020 in the climate agreement,” Robinson said.

Civil society groups, businesses and philanthropic organisations will have an important role to play in strengthening the links between the two U.N. processes, she said. And they will need to join forces to help fill the “very obvious gap” in funding for the development goals and climate action, she added.


Robinson said she hoped a meeting for some 40 world leaders on Sept. 27, hosted by the U.N. Secretary-General and held alongside the SDGs summit, would provide impetus to the climate negotiations, which have been criticised for their slow pace.

“Climate change is (an issue) for heads of state and government. It is about the future of the world, and it’s about the context in which we can reach the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.

Emissions reduction pledges being submitted by countries – responsible for close to 70 percent of global emissions so far – as their contribution to the climate deal are not sufficient to keep warming below 2 degrees and must be ramped up, she said.

In a letter issued on Friday, The Elders, a group of respected international figures including Robinson, ex-U.N. chief Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, urged leaders attending the SDGs launch to agree to mechanisms in a new climate agreement that would review progress and ratchet up emissions cuts and climate adaptation efforts every five years.

They also asked the leaders to establish a goal for all nations to become carbon neutral by 2050 and to agree a timetable to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, with early action on coal.

“2015 is the year in which the community of nations will conclude two of the most important international processes of our times,” The Elders wrote. “You have a decisive role to play in charting the course of history.”

This article was first published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering.