By Elizabeth Willoughby on
In a TED talk earlier this year, former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, outlined for the audience how she sees that climate change is actually a human rights issue, something she had not connected when she began as UN High Commissioner of Human Rights in 1997.
When travelling in Africa, however, she kept seeing how climate change was stymieing villagers’ ability to grow food properly and prepare for their future. She cites Uganda’s long periods of drought, followed by flash flooding and then drought again, destroying harvests, livelihoods and infrastructure. She also cited Malawi, which suffered from unprecedented flooding in January 2015, which killed 300 people and lost livelihoods for hundreds of thousands.
Robinson says that while the average Malawian emits about 80kg of C02 per year, the average American emits 17.5 metric tonnes. Ironically, people not contributing to global warming are suffering the consequences of it.
Although it is generally agreed that we need to stay below two degrees Celsius of warming of pre-industrial standards, Robinson’s concern is that we’re on course for about four degrees. “We have to go to zero carbon emissions by about 2050,” she says, “if we’re going to stay below two degrees Celsius of warming. And that means we have to leave about two-thirds of the known resources of fossil fuels in the ground.”
Although she sees great progress to cut emissions here and there, it is not enough, and she’d like to see better cooperation. “The reality is that this issue is much too important to be left to politicians and to the United Nations,” she says. “We face an existential threat to the future of our planet. And that made me realize that climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in the 21st century.”
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