On Friday evening Glasgow Caledonian University hosted its third Magnusson Fellowship Lecture. This year’s speaker was Dr Mary Robinson, whose employment history includes being the first female Irish President, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She campaigns for climate justice, human rights and gender equality, and gave a truly inspiring speech to Friday’s assembled audience on climate change and the need for fairness in successfully dealing with it.
Dr Robinson reminded her crowd that, despite popular belief, tackling climate change is not only possible through cutting economic activity. Instead, a “commitment to more ethical and equitable globalisation” is required. She declared the necessity of finding sustainable methods of meeting growing economies’ energy demands so that real results can be achieved without nations being forced to compromise their right to development. She referred to the 1.4 billion people worldwide who have no access to electricity, maintaining that “energy cannot be something that only the wealthy can afford.”
Dr Robinson then moved her argument on to the issue of food production. “The poorest countries are not climate resilient”, she said, and with temperatures rising and increased instances of severe weather it is the poorest communities that suffer. She alluded to increasing food prices, which are currently at an all time high, and the increasing demand for agricultural land in order to feed the world’s growing population. The result is deforestation, which severely undermines the work of climate change initiatives. She referred to several projects currently in development – including the UN’s REDD+ programme - that would discourage deforestation by providing financial incentives to developing countries in return for maintaining their forests.
The role of gender in climate justice also formed an integral part of Dr Robinson’s lecture. She stated her belief that, when catastrophe strikes in developing countries, it is women who hold communities together and develop methods of coping. It is also women, who make up the majority of subsistence farmers, that suffer most from so-called weather shocks. Dr Robinson claimed that resolving gender inequalities is “central to tackling climate change.”
A “more ambitious” and “legally-binding” agreement is “critical”, stated Dr Robinson, to minimise the effects of climate change. And action needs to happen fast. “Any later than 2015 and the risks of catastrophic climate change become too great.”
Having begun this year’s Magnusson Fellowship Lecture by emphasising Scotland’s environmental role within the global community – “I am impressed by the role Scotland is taking as regards climate change” – Dr Robinson ended by encouraging Scots to “become champions of climate justice”. She stressed that Scotland has “valuable experience to share” in adapting to climate change commitments, and highlighted the importance of developed countries leading by example.
A question and answer session, lead by BBC Scotland’s Sally Magnusson, raised issues concerning the cost of implementing renewable energy initiatives. Dr Robinson responded: “This is where the future jobs opportunities are. We will see prices coming down as people move away from fossil fuels.” To a question regarding the need for further subsidies to enable power companies to implement green technology, Dr Robinson proposed partnerships. Her example was between Scotland and Norway, and she stated that this is how “real change” comes about. In answer to various other questions Dr Robinson also emphasised the role that education must play in tackling climate change on an individual level. She said: “It should feature at every level of our education system”, and added that: “We must not talk about the climate in general terms. Every individual must do three things: reduce, reuse, recycle.”