Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will call today (Monday 11 December) for policymakers to adopt an approach to climate change that is rooted in the international human rights framework.
She will argue that: "We can no longer think of climate change as an issue where we the rich give charity to the poor to help them cope. Rather, this has now become an issue of global injustice that will need a radically different approach.”
“Climate change has already begun to affect the fulfillment of human rights,” she will add, “and our shared human rights framework entitles and empowers developing countries and impoverished communities to claim protection of these rights."
Making her statements tonight in a lecture at Chatham House in London, Robinson will argue for a revival of the multilateral spirit that led to the global eradication of smallpox and the phasing out of CFC gases.
The lecture is being given in honour of the late thinker and environmentalist Barbara Ward whose legacy lives on in the form of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which she founded in 1971. Barbara Ward, who died 25 years ago, first identified the need for sustainable development in her landmark book ‘Only One Earth’.
Scientists warn that climate change will increase the risk of floods as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, and will cause more intense monsoons in India and droughts in Africa. Poor countries and poor communities are likely to be worst hit, given their concentration in the tropics, their heavy reliance on agriculture and their limited capacity to deal with shocks.
"There is strong evidence of the rich causing the problem, with the poor most adversely affected, and thus it is time that rich countries address their obligations to reduce climate change and mitigate its effects, including those beyond their borders," Robinson will say.
As the recent Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change has argued, investing now to limit climate change and prepare for its effects would cost a fraction of waiting until these adverse impacts have made themselves known.
Developing countries need financial assistance from the West to 'climate-proof' their societies and to limit their own greenhouse gas emissions by following a low carbon pathway to economic development.
Robinson says the actions of individuals and national governments are important but that success will depend on a new spirit of multilateral efforts, and rich countries living up to their responsibilities for contributing most to the problem.
"For too long, many countries have denied the evidence, seeking to find excuses for inaction," says Robinson. She points out that the United States and Australia, for example, have failed to live up to the "clear moral obligation" of signing up to the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Until action is taken to address climate change globally, the poorest communities, which have contributed least to the problem, face a future filled with uncertainty and increased threats to their well-being.
"Not only is it morally unjustifiable to maintain such an imbalance in people's prospects for development, but practical solutions must rest on a fairer balance being struck."
The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED (iied.org) provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development.
Mary Robinson is the chair of IIED's board of trustees. She served as the 7th President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She is Founder and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
Barbara Ward (1914-1981) was a British economist and journalist who became an early architect of the sustainable development agenda. She advised two US presidents and several UK prime ministers; also numerous heads of state in Asia and Africa. In 1971, she set up IIED and was the organisation's president from 1973 and chair from 1980. Her books include Only One Earth (co-authored with René Dubos).
The inaugural Barbara Ward lecture will take place at 6.30pm on Monday 11th December at Chatham House, London.
On 30 October, the UK Treasury published the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which concluded that climate change could shrink the global economy by up to 20 per cent but that acting now to face the threat would cost just one per cent of global GDP.
High-resolution photographs of Mary Robinson and Barbara Ward are available.