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Mary Robinson: “We need a moon shot on global warming, and we need it now”

Posted 20 February, 2019

Former Irish president Mary Robinson believes the courts could provide the “necessary moon shot” to force a sweeping transformation of the Irish economy to help combat climate change.                                                

Those wishing to make a meaningful contribution to tackling climate change should make it a personal issue in their lives, Mrs Robinson told a packed lecture hall at the UCD Sutherland School of Law.

“All over the world court cases are being taken on climate change… I’m glad for that because [the court] is one way of cutting through something and forcing a situation.

“The scientists are telling us unequivocally that we have to stay at or below 1.5 degrees because above that, things happen. Coral reefs disappear, the arctic ice melts and the permafrost melts, and that means blow-back and climate changes of a significant sort.”

Speaking to Professor Andrew Jackson, the climate justice campaigner said politicians were too short-sighted, and urged lawyers to take on a more meaningful role in compelling action to be taken. 

“It can be hard to plan long-term in a democracy, politicians are always looking towards the next election.

“We need a moon shot approach to get us out of this ‘business as usual’ idea. And the courts can be this necessary moon shot.”

The term moon shot, used today to describe long-term, tech-driven innovation, originated based on US President John F. Kennedy's mission statement in 1961 to put a man on the moon ahead of the Soviet Union.

In 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon, effectively ending the Space Race and fulfilling the late President’s pledge.

Mrs Robinson, who was a lecturer at University College Dublin in the 1960s, said the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals should form part of the curriculum at national and higher education.

These 17 points include ending poverty, ending hunger, achieving gender equality, taking urgent action on climate change and ensuring responsible consumption and production. 

Mrs Robinson described the goals as “very relevant to our world”. 

Becoming the first woman elected as President of Ireland when she was inaugurated in 1990, Mrs Robinson is also a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2014, she was appointed to oversee UN efforts to tackle climate change.

Last November, she was appointed chair of peace and human rights campaigning group ‘The Elders’.

In doing so, she became the third person to chair the group, following on from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late Kofi Annan, who served as the seventh UN Secretary-General.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations