‘Human rights brought me to climate change’ - Mary Robinson gives inaugural MSSI Oration

March 16 / 178

Mary Robinson delivery the MSSI Oration
Mary Robinson delivery the MSSI Oration

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson is an outspoken advocate on the issues of human rights and climate justice. As President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and the former UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, she played an important role in the Paris climate conference process. 

The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) was delighted that Mary Robinson could deliver their inaugural annual oration earlier this month. Her lecture addressed the state of climate justice after the Paris Agreement.

Mrs Robinson sees human rights as being intrinsically connected to climate change. 

“It was human rights that brought me to climate change,” she said during the lecture. 

“The injustice of the impacts of climate change on people already struggling to overcome poverty – and who are least responsible for the causes of climate change - is what motivates my work in climate justice.”

She looked at the Paris agreement from three perspectives – diplomacy, science and law – before discussing the next steps and opportunities for Australia, and setting a few challenges.

According to Mrs Robinson, diplomacy happened at many levels of the Paris climate talks – and among many actors, which was significant. 

“During the talks 196 countries came together to provide a multilateral process built on trust and dialogue, and that respected the capacity of smaller delegations to engage,” she said. “The voices of people in vulnerable countries were heard in Paris.”

She also discussed the science behind striving for a 1.5C degree target –encouraging her audience to have a ‘1.5C degree mindset’.

“While Paris doesn’t deliver what science demands, it is informed by science, and will be reviewed and upgraded in response to science,” she said. 

“This is a step forward – 190 plus countries have signed up to making the transition to a world without fossil fuels before the end of the century, something that didn’t seem possible in the years leading up to Paris.”

Next steps on climate change remain a focus for Mrs Robinson, but she sees the Paris agreement as significant because it is a universal, and in part legally binding, international agreement.

“Importantly, it is not a narrow environmental agreement. It is an agreement about sustainable development, economics, energy transformation, human dignity, and the planet we pass on to future generations,” she said.

“What Paris has delivered is a legally-binding pathway for climate action.”

Mary Robinson’s engagements during her two-day visit also included a high-level roundtable on climate change attended by some of Melbourne’s leading academics, business representatives and civil society actors.

Her MSSI oration generated a lot of conversation on social media. You can catch up on the Twitter conversation and watch the lecture itself.


The EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges also supported the visit.

Story by Bridget O'Reilly.

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