Paris Agreement

MRCJ team members
MRCJ team members

The agreement made at COP21 in Paris last December was historic and incredible to witness. In a world of conflicting opinions, power struggles and a constant tug over resources, 195 countries converged on the reality of climate change and the imminent need to work towards a decarbonised world.

Climate change reveals the true interdependence of our world’s communities, no booming economy can resist the effects of catastrophic tsunami. However, the richer the nations, the more they can protect themselves and their communities from natural disasters.

The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice was set up as an organisation to promote action and leadership in that field and help the most under-resourced nations in their struggle against climate change.

Mary Robinson speaking at COP 21
Mary Robinson speaking at COP 21

Dearbhla Gavin in conversation with Maurice Sadlier, Account Director of the MRFCJ (Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice), discusses the ins and outs of that issue.

1) Horyou is a platform to highlight the people and projects that are making a positive impact on our world, tell us about the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation and how it is contributing to social good?    

The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice is a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world. It is a platform for solidarity, partnership and shared engagement for all who care about global justice, whether as individuals and communities suffering injustice or as advocates for fairness in resource-rich societies.   The Foundation provides a space for facilitating action on climate justice to empower the poorest people and countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable and people-centred development. Climate justice operates at the intersection of human rights, climate change and development. Climate justice links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly. Climate justice is informed by science, responds to science and acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world’s resources.  

2) Horyou was proud to be a part of COP 21 this year and your founder Mary Robinson was a key delegate. Tell us your thoughts on what was agreed and the next steps for action?  

The Paris Agreement represents a significant milestone in human history, and an evolution of the international climate regime. For the first time, we have an agreement that considers those people most vulnerable in the face of climate change – an agreement that builds on our growing understanding of climate change as a social – as well as an economic and environmental issue. The Paris Agreement recognizes the need to respect and promote human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, women’s empowerment and intergenerational equity to achieve a just transition. The Paris Agreement provides the opportunity to transform our way of life to one that is fairer and more sustainable. It establishes the need to keep global temperature rise below 2C and closer to 1.5C. This demonstrates that 195 countries accept the need to leave nobody behind in our transition to renewable energy, given that at 2 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels, many people and even some countries would not survive. Nevertheless, there will be challenges ahead as the World sets out to implement the Paris agreement. Climate justice must now inform how the Paris Agreement is implemented. We must ensure that decisions on climate change are participatory, transparent and accountable that the voices of people in vulnerable situations continue to be heard and will be acted upon. In implementing the agreement we must ensure that a development first approach is taken, that access to finance for developing countries is made available and that human rights are a cornerstone of the response to climate change.

3) Many industries are now realising that being environmentally conscious is good business and will actually serve them and their profits in the long run, what are your views on this? 

This action by business is very welcome. The global business community has a central role to play in the fight against climate change. Business has in fact a responsibility to manage climate risks and advance climate justice, not just for shareholders and workers but also for the wider community. Business interacts with people all along supply chains, and operates in communities that are affected by climate change. Business sells goods and services to people living in a climate affected world. Managing climate risk goes beyond risk assessments of potential impacts to earnings – business should be looking to build resilience to climate impacts more broadly in our economies and societies. Responsible action on climate change is part of the social contract required to operate. In the run up to COP21 and the Paris Agreement businesses played a key role. Many business leaders around the world raised their voices and supported ambitious action on climate change. For example, We Mean Business – a coalition of organisations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors – wrote an open letter to world leaders calling for a clear and ambitious long-term goal as part of the COP21 agreement. This letter was signed by 22 business and civil society leaders.  

4) You are based in Trinity College, Dublin and so you are surrounded by ‘millennials’, how would you some up the attitude of today’s students around climate change/sustainable living? 

MRCJ team members
MRCJ team members

We are the first generation to fully understand the grave threat of climate change and the last generation who will be able to do something about it before it is too late. The youth of today are very engaged in the issues of climate change and climate justice. You only have to look at the divestment campaigns that are springing up in universities and colleges across the world to see how engaged students are. This engagement is important and necessary. The youth of today are the future leaders and innovators of the world; these are the people who will provide the solutions for the future world we live in not only for ourselves but for those who come after us.  

5) Finally, Horyou supports people acting on their dreams, through the work that you do, what are the ultimate goals or ambitions for the Mary Robinson Foundation?   

The vision of the Foundation is that by 2020 global justice and equity will underpin a people-centred, developmental approach to advancing climate justice and more effectively addressing the impacts of climate change. As a Foundation we seek to put justice and equity at the heart of the responses to climate change, and to ensure that the challenge that it poses for the poorest and most vulnerable peoples of the world are addressed and the benefits and burdens of the response to climate change are shared equally.

Written by Dearbhla Gavin

Maria Luisa Silva presents the UN Sustainable Goals during an event in Geneva
Maria Luisa Silva presents the UN Sustainable Goals during an event in Geneva

Launched in September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 is a broad and demanding agenda which affects all countries. The new goals require more collaboration, commitment and the participation of all actors: academia, society, governments and private sectors should join forces to shape better times to come. Horyou blog interviewed Maria Luisa Silva, the Head of United Nations Development Program in Geneva, about the challenges presented by the new agenda.

1. How does the new UN Sustainable Development Goals differ from the UN Millennium Goals?

They differ in three fundamental ways. The first difference is that Millennium Development Goals were a relatively narrow social agenda, extremely important but focused on some social issues. The Sustainable development agenda is a broader and more complex agenda that addresses all the dimensions of development: economic, social but also sustainability. The pillar of environment gives a greater expansion in the sustainable development goals – 6 out of the 17 new goals are focusing on environmental issues. The reason they are making their way in the agenda is because these are the areas where the least progress happened during the life of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The second main difference is that the Sustainable Development Goals are going to require a major mobilization of all sorts of actors. The Millennium Goals were mostly emanating from governments towards developing countries, and agreed in multilateral forums. In this case, it requires society as a whole: private sector, youth, academia, everybody to think and to make a necessary social transformation.

The third difference is that they are universal goals. This is not just an agenda for developing countries, this is an agenda that will also apply and demand action on rich societies, to address the social challenges they have, and many of them would be surprised about their serious issues of inequality and poverty pockets. More importantly, there are involved in the environmental transformations required to reach the sustainability dimension of the agenda.

2. How can companies help to engage on climate change and environmental challenges?

The private sector can engage in two different manners. One is with a necessary innovation to make the planet a better place to live. And innovation and the transformation of the production processes need to come up from the private sector. This is a survival agenda. I remember talking to Paul Polman, head of Unilever, and he and many other companies have already realized that this is not just for profit. It’s the interest of new consumers, young people are not interested to consume products from companies that are destroying the environment or gaining money profiting from the poor and vulnerable. So, it becomes really part of the bottom line for enterprises.

The other dimension is also contributions, more and more we are getting private sector organizations leading and contributing to debates which were more traditionally government-led debates. And we have from the philanthropic side foundations from extremely wealthy private entrepreneurs contributing to the public good. So the public good is not just responsibility from governments only, it is also from the private sector.

3. How will developing countries get assistance to reach the new UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Traditionally, development assistance was considered the way to contribute, to leverage development processes in developing countries. And this is what’s called Official Development Assistance (ODA). The goal of ODA was only 0,7% of GDP in rich economies, but very few countries have reached that level. Some have, and it hasn’t really hurt them. It’s not complicated, it’s just a matter of political will. We need to keep pushing them to reach that level, because this ODA is absolutely instrumental, particularly for the least developed countries and the low income countries which are out of their own means to reach the Sustainable Development goals. The case of upper middle income countries like Brazil is not ODA. They will have to develop other means and ways, private investments, mobilization of local resources. It’s important to see how they will deal with obstacles that are limiting sustainable-friendly investments and sustainable development.

4. How do you see the news of China and US signing the Paris agreement?

Paris Agreement was one of the incredible successes of the year 2015, where political leaders around the globe agreed on political agendas that will be extremely important for the coming years. So US and China agreed in Paris and now they are making the next step which is signing the agreement. This is absolutely fantastic and very important, but there is much more to do. We need to transform intended national contributions into real national contributions. So those plans that each country committed itself to do, now they need to become reality. And we also need to go further. Even if we achieve everything that all countries committed to achieve, we will still be in the 3 degrees level. And many states said that they want to go to 1,5. In the revision on those intended national contributions within 5 years, we need to keep pushing for further ambitions.

Written by Vivian Soares

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