Literary Study of ‘Climate Justice’ by Mary Robinson

by Guest Contributor

Lay Missionary Roberta Kim summarises the book 'Climate Justice - Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, written by Mary Robinson.

The writer MARY ROBINSON (21, May1994~), the former President (3 December 1990- 12 September 1997) of Ireland, served as the United Nations High Commissioner (1997-2002) for Human Rights when Kofi Annan was the Secretary-General (1 January 1997- 31 December 2006). ‘Climate Change’ was not something she knew a lot about until she became a grandmother in December 2003 and moved to New York to create her own organization, Realizing Rights, which she wanted to set up in order to help developing countries achieve their full economic and social potential and to let them know they had human dignity and rights. “But things are so much worse now” she often heard from farmers in African countries where she visited to promote the right to development. This made her keen to face the climate change and take action to help support the most vulnerable people in the world.

Kyoto protocol was signed on 11 December 1997 but it could only be effective from 16, February 2005. Yet still, many countries have denied the evidence and the United States and Australia failed to sign up. And discouragingly, Donald Trump who promised to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement became a president of U.S.A. Under these circumstances, it was inspiring to find that 45 of the poorest countries have pledged to receive their energy from renewable sources by 2050 in the UN annual climate change talks of 2016 where 195 nations representatives gathered following after U.S.A. election. As the writer mentions ‘There was no turning back. The rest of the world would forge ahead with or without the United States.’

The writer’s explanation on climate justice is so clear and obvious that I could easily catch how it is connected with climate change. She says, ‘while industrial nations continued to build their economics based on fossil fuels, the most disadvantaged across the world were suffering from the effects of climate change. Though these communities were the least responsible for the emissions causing climate change, they were disproportionately affected because of their already-vulnerable geographic locations and their lack of climate resilience’, ‘This injustice made clear that to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable to food, safe water, health, education, and shelter would have no effect without paying attention to our world’s changing climate’. She explains ‘we can no longer think about climate change as an issue where the rich give charity to the poor to help them to cope with its adverse impacts.’, and ‘if there is a climate change problem, it is in large part a justice problem. Our continued existence on this shared planet demands that we agree to a fairer way of sharing out the burdens and benefits of life on earth, and that in the choices we make, we remember the rights of both today’s poor and tomorrow’s children.’

I realized that global warming already began in the middle of the eighteenth century with The Industrial Revolution.

After the Korean War, South Korea was focusing on development until late 1970s but I didn’t notice that we were already joining climate change without noticing and contributing to carbon emission in those days. I was ashamed of my ignorance and began to think more seriously on climate change and climate justice.

I totally agree with the writer’s opinion of ‘If we are to properly address climate change, we must do so in tandem with improving the lives of these people, by giving them access to electricity and cookstoves through renewable energy resources, and not fossil fuels. By doing so we can deliver a wave of empowerment in one of the most profound attacks on global poverty and inequality ever to take place-by opening unprecedented opportunities for these billions of people.’

Hearing the experiences of those suffering from the effects of climate change was a humbling reminder of the power and principle of participation. The writer shares the ‘grass root’ stories in her ‘climate justice’ which is quite impressive and inspiring. Most of them were African women whose lives has been changed because of climate change which has brought catastrophe to their daily life.

The book is consisted of Learning from the Lived Experience/ The Accidental Activist/ Vanishing Language, Vanishing Lands/ A Seat at the Table/ Small Steps Towards Equality/ Migrating with Dignity/ Taking Responsibility/ Leaving No One Behind/ Paris-the Challenge of Implementing. Each of them draws on the thoughts of fascinating and amazing people who have given talks on climate change at various conferences and tells us how this enormous problem has impacted their lives. Most of them are farmers, often women living in vulnerable areas from Africa. I can see how climate change has really influenced each person, each community and even small islands in the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, they were not convenient evidences of climate change but definitely I was encouraged and empowered by those ‘grass root’ stories.

A woman called Constance Okollet, a farmer and a community organizer from Uganda, said that she had believed that God was wreaking revenge on their people for some mysterious wrong doing until she went to a meeting about climate change. She strongly claimed ‘Everyone across the world should understand what is happening that we, the people at the grassroots level, are suffering the worst effects of climate change. It was not God, but the rich people in the West who are doing this to us. We are asking that they stop or reduce (their emissions)’. Her message which came from her experience was simple but so powerful to feel its urgency.

Vu Thi Hien gave up her academic plans and a future in Australia. It was very impressive to see that she said ‘I began to understand what a country needs for development and how I could contribute to improving life back in Vietnam’ and left for Vietnam after completing her Master’s Degree in Sidney. When she found that the forest perimeters had begun to shrink owing to excessive logging and the degradation of their resources, she established her own NGO, CERDA (Center of Research and Development in Upland Aras). In 2009, UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program, and CERDA and with the support of international funders, initiated a trial project to help ethnic minorities there protect and preserve their natural forests. Some of her phrases resided in my mind as a guidance; ‘In spite of their extreme poverty, these people were full of dignity. They showed pride when applying for government loans’, ‘Poverty does not equate with stupidity. These people have their own knowledge, their own technology, their own systems. Not only do they contribute solutions. But they are the beneficiaries too. These are the people who can protect and save our planet.’

The author ends the book by asking families and communities to identify their individual responsibility to live more sustainably with a conscious empathy for those who are most affected by climate change and least responsible. As she mentioned, I hope, in that way, we can ensure developing countries can develop without emissions and become more people-centered countries.

A copy of this book can be found on Amazon.