On Thursday February 1st, former President of Ireland and human rights advocate Mary Robinson was presented with the James Joyce Award and Honorary Fellowship from the Literary and Historical Society.

Robinson addressed the packed Fitzgerald Chamber with a speech illustrating her advocacy and dedication to climate justice, recalling what she had learned in recent years about the state of climate change, and calling for emergency action as our planet is “heading towards catastrophe.”

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Robinson has held a long and committed career in promoting human rights. Following her transformative presidency, she took up office as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997 and has since travelled the globe forming and leading initiatives, foundations, and charities in the name of global justice.

Over time she has come to realise that “any advances in human rights were threatened by the impacts of climate change.” Robinson came to this realisation from her “work with local communities in African countries.” In particular, she has focused on grassroots knowledge when working on women’s rights.

Her most recent endeavour has been the Mary Robinson foundation for Climate Justice, since then, she has been dedicated to what she sees as the most critical existential threat to humanity.

In her speech, Robinson called upon world leaders to act in solidarity “in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and achieve the ultimate goal of the Paris agreement, to hold the average global temperatures to well below 2 degrees celsius.” However, she believes that the Paris agreement is not enough as “if everyone did everything they committed to before the agreement, we would have a world of at least 2.7 degrees celsius, which is catastrophic. That is where we are. We are not on course for a safe world.”

Therefore, she presented the members of the L&H with a challenge now specific to the younger generation, to “get into what I call a 1.5 degree celsius mindset, and think about what the world has to do to get on a safe course for future generations.” Robinson encouraged students to work on reducing your own carbon footprint and ask what the organisations you belong to can do to be sustainable.

When asked if climate change is compatible with rising consumer culture, Robinson advised that we “cut the habit” and resort back to reusing and reducing the things we buy and use, and lead a different lifestyle. Robinson also laments Ireland’s commitment to climate change, saying we have an excellent reputation in tackling world hunger that will be damaged if we continue to not “pull our weight.”

She added that vegetarianism and veganism were crucial in helping the environment, and recalls receiving a formal letter from Mayo County Council demanding she withdraw her ‘anti-agriculture’ remarks during an address in Ottawa.

During the Q&A held following her address, Robinson reminisced on her presidency, acknowledging that it wasn’t an aim of hers initially, but when “the penny dropped that it would be important for the country” she was persuaded, and so were the Irish people.

She thanked the society for the opportunity to speak to members of “an important generation in the fight for climate change.”