Pushing ahead with a drive to achieve a global climate change agreement by late 2015, Ban announced this week that Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, will become his “special envoy for climate change,” effective immediately.Robinson’s new task is to interact with world leaders in the run-up to a climate summit Ban is hosting on September 23 in New York. There he hopes leaders from governments, businesses and civil society will help to lay the groundwork for a global deal to be finalized at the next in a long series of U.N. climate megaconferences, in Paris, France in November 2015.
Robinson is an enthusiastic climate activist, who set up a foundation in late 2010 called the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice, focusing on human rights- and development-related aspects of the climate issue.
“Our work on climate justice emphasizes the urgency of action on climate change from a people’s perspective, and I intend to take this approach in my new mandate as special envoy for climate change,” she said in a statement after Ban announced her appointment.Robinson has voiced support for divestment from the fossil fuel industry, which she accuses of helping to fund global warming denialism.
“I know there are deniers, and there’s money supporting these deniers to try to confuse us,” she told the left-wing Democracy Now news program last October. “But we can’t be confused anymore because actually the impacts of climate are undermining human rights all over the world.”
Asked about the source of that money, Robinson replied, “I think a lot of it is coming from those who benefit at the moment from selling fossil fuel, so the coal and oil communities.”
“We can no longer invest in companies that are part of the problem of the climate shocks that we’re suffering from,” she said.
“So I speak openly and encourage students and colleges to be part of that,’ Robinson continued. “It’s to me a little bit like the energy behind the anti-apartheid movement when I was a student. We were all involved because we saw the injustice of it. There’s an injustice in continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies that are part of the problem.”
Robinson is not the only prominent person Ban has recently recruited to the cause.
Last January he announced that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be his “special envoy for cities and climate change,” helping to mobilize support and action from cities to advance climate change efforts at the September summit and beyond.
A month earlier, Ban appointed former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and former Ghanaian President John Kufuor as “special envoys on climate change,” saying the two would help to mobilize political will and action ahead of the September summit.
“As part of their work, the special envoys will assist the secretary-general in his consultations with leaders to raise the level of ambition to address climate change and to accelerate action,” the U.N. secretariat said at the time.
It’s not clear why Ban needs multiple special envoys to fulfil this function, although Stoltenberg was recently named NATO’s next secretary-general, a post he will take up from October.
Ban’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, said Robinson succeeds Stoltenberg and will “work closely with special envoys John Kufuor and Michael Bloomberg in her new role.”
Robinson has served since March 2013 in another U.N. role, as Ban’s special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. She now relinquishes that post, which dealt with efforts to bring a lasting peace to the conflict-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding areas.
‘Time is not on our side’
The U.N. has high hopes for the summit Ban will host on Sept. 23.
“The summit will be an important milestone to mobilize political commitment for the conclusion of a global agreement by 2015, as well as to spur enhanced action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilient communities,” it said.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, has long voiced anxiety about the need for a far-reaching global agreement to combat and mitigate the effects of the emission of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) blamed for climate change.
As an earlier U.N. climate conference loomed – in Copenhagen in late 2009 – Ban hosted a summit in New York aimed, like this year’s one, to build momentum. In a speech that August, Ban warned that the world had “just four months to secure the future of our planet.”
In the event, Copenhagen came and went without the result activists wanted so badly – a global agreement on binding GHG emission-reduction targets.
Last week Ban was again warning darkly of the threats of climate change.
“[U.N.] member-states have agreed that we cannot exceed two degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures,” he said at an event at U.N. headquarters introducing a new report on ways major industrial economies can reduce their GHG emissions.
“Beyond this limit, science indicates that we may face dangerous and irreversible climate disruption,” he said. “We know that we are not on track, and time is not on our side.”