Cities And Businesses Can Contribute to Climate Justice, Too

By Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland (1990-1997) and a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2010, she created the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy on climate justice.

Q - What makes climate change the biggest threat facing human rights?

It is the biggest threat to human rights because it is an existential threat. It's already undermining a whole range of human rights: rights to food and water and health and safety. But it's also posing a threat to humanity itself. We have a short time in which to get on track for a safe world for our children and grandchildren. That, for me, is the greatest human rights issue we could be possibly facing.

Q - In your opinion, did the COP21 agreement adequately address the issue of climate justice?

COP21 was a very climate justice COP. There was very good participation and a huge interest of civil society, of business, of entrepreneurs. But also obviously governments. And because we had a lot of ministerial informal meetings, ministries listened to each other and they listened to the small island states and the least developed countries and they heard them. There was a high-ambition coalition formed and that was how we got the new target for where the world has to go to be safe. That is well below 2°C, and working for 1.5°C. We also have a commitment now to be carbon neutral by the second half of the century. We have a whole article on loss and damage. And we have much more emphasis on adaptation, and the preamble is full of human rights.

Q - What does this inclusive transition to mitigating climate change require of businesses?

Business will play a huge role in the transition that we need from business as usual to very significant cutting of emissions by the industrialized world that benefited from fossil fuel. We should be doing far more. We should be focusing on energy efficiency, putting a price on carbon, having businesses that factor in a carbon price to everything they do, and also a realization by business that they can help communities to become more resilient. The B team that I'm associated with is trying to give leadership with a commitment to have 0 carbon emissions by 2050. These are heads of big companies that have easy entry to the political leaders and can influence them.

Q - How can cities best prepare themselves for an inclusive, just and equal transition towards sustainability?

Cities are absolutely crucial for climate action. It was great to see at the summit in 2014 a big alliance, a compact of cities. There's the C40 cities, there are other networks of cities, and it's very good to see what cities are doing. But I sometimes think there's too much emphasis on economic and the environmental sustainability, and not enough emphasis on social sustainability. It's very important--looking at the new climate economy and the role of cities and trying to have carbon neutral buildings--to remember the poorest. About 15 percent of people in the developing world live in slums and that is an issue that needs top priority.

Q - We run the Solutions&Co operation with roughly 20 economic newspapers around the world and we have a partnership with the B team as well. What does it mean for you and the B team to partner with an operation that tries to identify and bring to light these sustainable business initiatives that can impact the sustainability of cities?

One of the things that the B team is trying to do is to advocate and to amplify its voice, and obviously media are a great way of amplifying, particularly if media can act together. I understand that you have a day on the 4dth of November and I'm very glad to say that you will be promoting the idea of sustainability in cities and what business can do. This is such an urgent issue. We do need action to be taken. It's wonderful that the Paris agreement is being ratified so quickly. It's very likely to come into effect this year. Even maybe at the COP itself, and that is something we didn't imagine could happen. So we're changing and we have a lot of change to do. We cannot have business as usual.