The former president of Ireland brought a message of climate justice to the Triad Thursday. Mary Robinson was in Winston-Salem as part of Wake Forest University's “Voices of Our Time” series.
Before her address, she sat down with WFDD's Paul Garber to talk about women in politics, her decision to leave the presidency, and the subject of climate inequality.
Robinson says climate change is leading to catastrophic events across the world, but poor areas face a longer road to recovery.
“It's the small island states, it's indigenous communities, it's African countries that are being very severely affected now by climate change," she says. "But they're not responsible, they're not using carbon, they don't drive cars, they don't use air conditioning, etc., and yet they're being very heavily affected.”
Climate change is often portrayed as a side-effect of development. Robinson says it doesn't have to be. She says poor communities are the ones most in need of the benefits of development. But that growth needs to be based on renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.
"What we need to do now in addressing sustainable development and climate change...is to make sure that no one is left behind," she says. "And no one left behind means everyone has access to clean energy. And we can do that."
Robinson began her political career in 1969. She was elected as the first woman president of Ireland in 1990 and served until 1997, when she took a position as a high commissioner of human rights at the United Nations. She now runs a foundation focusing on climate justice.
She credits women voters as key to her presidential victory, but says she gets frustrated sometimes that women aren't involved in politics in larger numbers.
"The situation is that no country in the world has achieved full equality," she says.
She was working for the UN when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. She says she went down to Ground Zero at the time and saw the weeping families. She says the attacks caused a ripple effect for human rights across the globe.
"I pleaded with the Bush Administration not to announce a global war on terror and to go after the perpetrators," she says. "The War on Iraq wasn't justified under international law, and did terrible damage, and we're still paying for that damage."
The Irish presidency isn't as powerful as it is in many other countries. The government is led by a prime minister known as the Taoiseach. Robinson has been credited with bringing a higher profile to the presidency during her term.