Mary Robinson: ‘moonshot mentality’ needed to beat global warming

Former Irish president tells Glasgow summit universities must redouble efforts on emissions to help hit Paris targets by 2030

October 31, 2022
Watching the moon Uppsala, Sweden
Source: iStock

Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson, has urged universities to go much further with their efforts on combating fossil fuel emissions, calling on academics to become “thought leaders” in the fight against global warming.

Calling for a “moonshot mentality” to combat climate change, Dr Robinson told Times Higher Education’s Global Sustainable Development Congress that the target to cut pollution levels by 45 per cent by 2030, as agreed under the Paris Agreement in 2015, was likely to be missed unless radical steps were taken in the next few years.

Speaking at the University of Glasgow on the congress’ opening day, the former senator, who was Ireland’s head of state from 1990 to 1997, said that the world had just over seven years to reach the ambitious Paris target – roughly the same amount time between President John F. Kennedy’s famous declaration that the US would put a man on the moon, made at Rice University in September 1962, and the moon landing in July 1969 – and required a similarly ambitious mindset.

“We need to have a moonshot mentality – we need a huge moment of change before and up to 2030 [which means] having a broad, inclusive, climate justice moment,” said Dr Robinson, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights whose charitable foundation has focused on climate justice since 2010. “2030 is seven years away – it is right around the corner,” added Dr Robinson, an adjunct professor of climate justice at Trinity College Dublin.

This year Glasgow Caledonian University renamed its climate justice institute in honour of Dr Robinson’s work in highlighting how fossil fuel use was increasingly a matter of social inequality – with poorer countries, including island nations, most affected by extreme weather linked to climate change.

“Those nations which built their economies on fossil fuels are not moving quickly enough to get out of [these polluting industries] on which their countries were built,” she told the congress, which runs until 2 November.

Harm caused by fossil fuel use was also a feminist issue given how “fumes kill millions of women who are cooking” in poorly ventilated homes, explained Dr Robinson, who believed that the achievements of the #MeToo campaign, and activism regarding violence against women, could be replicated in the climate change arena.

With this in mind, she said female political leaders must increasingly drive efforts to fight climate change and proposed a campaign called Project Dandelion that would see women take a more central role in pushing forward global warming activism. “It’s called Project Dandelion as a dandelion grows on all seven continents, is very difficult to get rid of and spreads by being blown,” she explained.

“We need a powerful network of women leaders but they also need to be joined by scientists, artists and those from the progressive parts of the private sector,” said Dr Robinson.

Calling on researchers to become more publicly engaged and vocal on these issues, she added: “Do not just think you are doing enough by working with those in universities or your external partners – you need to be thought leaders on this agenda.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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