Published: Dec. 3, 2022 By

Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland

On the second day of the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit, keynote speaker and former Irish President Mary Robinson posed a question about a pretty, yellow plant we all know but might not love: the dandelion.

She used the metaphor of the common weed to illustrate—and name—the latest climate justice movement taking root: Project Dandelion, the next phase of climate justice work, led by women. Dandelion seeds spread gently on the wind, and they grow on all continents around the world. To call them resilient is an understatement. 

"Have you ever tried to get rid of the damn thing?” she said to applause in the full Glenn Miller Ballroom at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Robinson was the second keynote in the inaugural Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit. 

While she announced Project Dandelion at COP27, her speech focused on the importance of building trust and including all perspectives and voices, and holding governments and corporations accountable for the financial and policy reforms urgently needed now to address climate change. 

One of the world’s most respected advocates for human rights and climate justice, Robinson said she hoped that, like the fast-growing dandelion, this movement would act as a feminist “moonshot” to achieve a more just and carbon-free world as quickly as possible.

“We have decided that what is needed is a women-led global climate justice movement, not women-only, but women-led,” said Robinson.

Climate injustices to address

Robinson cited five climate injustices that Project Dandelion aims to address:

First, that the climate crisis has disproportionately affected the poorest countries and communities, small island states, and Indigenous peoples. Second, the gender injustice within the climate crisis, noting that women and their children must travel further and suffer more in the face of climate change and disasters.

Third, the intergenerational injustices committed by her own generation, which have left younger generations with the possibility of an unlivable world. “We haven’t done what we should do,” said Robinson.

Fourth: the injustice of different development pathways. Developing countries around the world are told they now cannot use gas or oil to better their nations when it is the delay and lack of action on the part of developed countries that has led to this predicament.

Robinson said all nations and all people have to make not only a rapid, but a just transition, or we will not have a livable world.

Finally, the injustice to nature, which is especially important to Indigenous peoples around the world. In her time as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson was coordinator of the Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, which taught her to listen first to Indigenous perspectives on climate issues.

 “Yet they're very often not delegates at the table and they find it very difficult to bring that wisdom to decision-making,” she said.

Leadership on climate justice

There are two words Robinson doesn’t use anymore: climate change. Instead, she uses either “climate crisis” or “climate justice.” It’s a purposeful choice to highlight the “deep connection” between the climate crisis and all human rights in her international advocacy and leadership.

During her tenure as president of Ireland (1990-97), Robinsonnever talked about climate change. It wasn’t until after five years as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002) that Robinson realized this critical connection when she saw firsthand how climate change was affecting several African countries and small island nations.

She went on to found the Mary Robinson Foundation (2010–2019), serve as the U.N. Special Envoy on Climate Change from 2014–2015, author the book Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, and be a founding member and current chair of The Elders, an esteemed group of former world leaders with a focus on creating a world where “people live in peace, conscious of their common humanity and their shared responsibilities for each other, for the planet and for future generations.” 

Getting fired up

Robinson was disappointed after COP27 concluded two weeks ago in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. It was touted as a COP of “implementation” but it did not deliver in important ways, she said.

While an agreement was reached to establish a fund for loss and damage and a link was made with reform of the international monetary system, “there was no move to increase ambition at COP27 by governments.”

“I came away from COP27 with a sense of what I can only describe as a terrible paradox,” said Robinson.

While we are on the cusp of a clean energy world, she said, we’re still heading for a catastrophic 2-degrees warming world.

“So what does this mean for the human rights community? I think it means one word, which we know and are familiar with but we have to really rise to: the word ‘accountability.’”

Robinson said she also aims to hold herself accountable, noting in her opening remarks that she traveled all the way from Dublin to be at the summit, and needed to justify her resulting carbon footprint.

She was going to do that, she said, “by making all of you as fired up as I was when I was leaving COP27 in Egypt a short time ago. I was fired up by anger and frustration and frankly, the fierce urgency of now.”  

In closing, Robinson asked the audience: “I want to know, are you fired up?” A sudden, loud round of applause and a standing ovation gave her an answer.