Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, discusses the importance of climate justice

By Nikki Broderick ‘14Staff Writer

On Tuesday, April 9, the former and first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, visited Scripps College as a guest of the California European Union Center. Robinson spoke in Balch Auditorium about the beginning of her career and her passion for climate justice.

During the first half of her talk, Robinson told stories about her law work and participation in Ireland’s entrance into the European Union. After her undergraduate career at Trinity College Dublin, Robinson studied at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Robinson learned about European Community law, or as it was to be later known as, European Union law. Although Ireland had not yet joined the European Union, Robinson took an interest and even became the first professor to teach community law in Ireland after she won a professorship upon her return.

In her talk, Robinson described her support for Ireland’s entry into the European Union and “felt in particular that it would be good for women.” As an attorney, she often represented women in cases brought to the Court of Justice of the European Union, and provided anecdotes of cases that struck her as especially helpful for women’s equality in Ireland.

After her election to the senate, Robinson remained influential, particularly in controversial areas such as legal availability of contraception and family planning services. Robinson won the Labour Party’s nomination, and served as president from 1990-1997. During her tenure as president, Robinson was the first head of state to visit Rwanda and Somalia after their intense conflicts. Two months before the official end of her presidency, Robinsontook the post of United Nations Human High Commissioner for Human Rights, where she worked for five years.

Robinson’s interest in climate justice stems from this experience, and she explained that she believes “acute poverty is a deprivation of human rights.” Describing weather shocks that hit underdeveloped countries much more heavily as a result of climate change, Robinson stated, “The lives we have enjoyed have affected other nations more than it has affected Western nations.”

She describes climate change as an injustice because we are “hurting people who are not responsible for the problem.” Robinson also commented that it was an intergenerational injustice, and cited her grandchildren as part of her inspiration to work towards a solution to climate injustice. Robinson started an organization, the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, to work with local groups to combat climate injustice. When asked the most effective method for change, Robinson mentioned, “Aid is still necessary, but it is not the solution,” citing a more bottom-up approach that empowers local communities as a more effective method.