Mary Robinson criticises lack of climate leadership from wealthy countries at Cop27

Elders chairwoman calls for new movement: ‘We’re not on course for a safe world’

The lack of climate leadership from wealthy countries at Cop27, when the worst of times threaten the world, has been strongly criticised by climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson.

The chair of The Elders, a group of global leaders working for peace, justice and human rights, also singled out those who suggest limiting global overheating to 1.5 degrees might not be possible, when that is the limit of what the planet can tolerate.

The position of the Global North contrasted with the visionary statements from many developing countries on climate finance.

Ms Robinson called for a new global movement beyond the “1.5 to stay alive” campaign that was pivotal to securing the Paris Agreement, to change governments and investment priorities in a “ridiculous” scenario when $1.8 trillion was being spent on fossil fuel subsidies; “what’s destroying us”.


“We need a much, much bigger movement now because we are at this urgent moment when we’re not on course for a safe world but we know our best times are still ahead of us,” she added.

That would mean a world without fossil fuels, better cities, a regeneration of farming and an end to 4 million deaths from air pollution, notably of women dying from unsafe cooking, she said.

This movement needed to start at Cop27 and branch out from there by insisting “we want the best times, when we’re heading for the worst of times”.

Ms Robinson said she regretted that protest at Cop27 was not as strong as it could be “because of the environment in this country”.

“I have been worried that there seems to some kind of attempt to say may be 1.5 degrees is not achievable any more, staying below 1.5 degrees of warming. That is not acceptable,” she said.

That was not a target, Ms Robinson underlined, but a scientific limit of a liveable world that had to be adhered to. She was speaking at a meeting at Cop27 hosted by the Irish Government on climate justice and its role in enhancing adaptation and responding to loss and damage in vulnerable countries.

She said she had endorsed the position of tech companies in private sector, scientists and others emanating from Cop27 that calls on governments to take their responsibilities, particularly G20 countries meeting in coming days, to step up on cutting emissions, on climate finance and loss and damage.

“Take seriously the commitments. Stand by the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Pact. They must be rock solid ... This is the African Cop and we have to give a really good legacy to this Cop with a good cover decision, which is being discussed at the moment.”

Loss and damage had to be dealt with backed by a financial facility and a doubling of funds for adaptation by 2025 to help make countries more resilient, she added.

Community activist Constance Okollet from Uganda said the developing world did not want “payments to say sorry” from rich countries. Because they were constantly bogged down by climate change, they needed local support to drive actions to ensure their survival.

“Cop is talking, talking, talking – people are dying, dying, dying,” she added. Uganda had the recent experience of seeing thousands of people being swept away by floods “when it’s not even the rainy season”.

Minister of Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Colm Brophy asked: “How many do you want to see dead before we see action? That’s the question Cop27 must answer.”

Climate Envoy of the Marshall Islands Tina Steege said in spite of predictions of a world of 2 degrees plus, “all that matters is 1.5 degrees, what we need to stay in our country”.

Where she lived on an atoll just 2 metres above sea level with no hills to escape to, they were facing the prospect of sea-level rise of 1.5 metres. Already all their water had become salty, and the likelihood was having to relocate people from where they had lived for thousands of years. “So adaptation is a story of grief,” she added. “I’m going to have to tell my children ‘this is the last time you will see this place’.”

Siobhán McDonnell, negotiator on loss and damage for the Pacific, said the issue had to be considered in the context of devastating climate-related events were happening now, particularly coastal environments. Finance was being provided by the most climate-vulnerable countries, which raised the issue of climate justice when it was not their fault.

The Glasgow dialogue of last year led to loss and damage coming on to the agenda of Cop24, she said, and discussions now were focused on what it might look like between now and 2024. This was a complex process considering economic impacts such as the loss of built infrastructure and non economic impacts, notably loss of culture and “attachment to place”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times