I recently attended the conference “Meeting the Challenge of Climate Justice: From Evidence to Action” that took place in Maynooth University (NUIM) on the 22nd & 23rd of June – hosted jointly by Trócaire, NUIM and Maynooth College. The two day event was jam packed with notable speakers such as former president Mary Robinson,  vice-chair of the IPCC Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele and co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben to name a few.

Climate change was discussed in terms of science, morality, ethics and justice. The conference was held just days after the Pope released the encyclical on climate change, which was highly commended at the conference and internationally. The encyclical is considered ground-breaking and has been described as visionary, bold and uncompromising. The Pope be emphasised how everything is connected – we have all one common home, and if we want to act successfully against climate change we must all be part of the same tribe. The encyclical was a profound call to action for change and this could be felt amongst conferences speakers and attendees.

Professor van Ypersele stated that the “window for action is rapidly closing as 65% of carbon budget compatible with 2 degree warming is already used”. A powerful example of climate change vulnerability in developing countries was shared by Dr David Mkwambisi, from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Nature Resources. In Malawi rural farmers are unable to predict rainfall patterns which results in planting either too early or too late, both having negative effect on crop yield. Dr Mkwambisi stated that child labour, prostitution, selling land and assets, and reducing meal intake were all common coping strategies currently taking place in Malawi. This gave attendees a first-hand account of the injustice surrounding climate change. Millions of the world’s poorest, who have not benefitted from fossil fuels, are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.  Mary Robinson stated how climate finance was essential for the successful development of the poorest regions.

Dr. Mkwambisi on climate change and food security. Source: Trócaire Climate Justice 2015

Bill McKibben can be credited for driving the conference forward when he suggested that now was the time to fight and that “confrontation” and “civil disobedience” was needed to break down the power forces backing the fossil fuel industry. McKibben, along with his organisation 350.org has organised over 20,000 public demonstrations, can be credited for spearheading the fossil fuel divestment campaign that has begun to sweep the globe. Divestment is the process of moving money out of companies for both moral and financial reasons. This has worked before, particularly in the fight against the South African apartheid. McKibben, along with many other conference attendees, believe this is essential to change the zeitgeist. Notably at the opening ceremony NUIM President Professor Philip Nolan announced that they are committed to divesting and plan to take a leadership position for other universities to follow suit. An incoming TCD student challenged Mary Robinson, Chancellor of Trinity College, on whether we can expect similar divestment from TCD. Robinson stated that she has had a discussion with the Provost and he’s “looking into it”.

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Bill McKibben on the fossil fuel industry. Source: Trócaire Climate Justice 2015

As a PhD student studying climate justice it was encouraging to see a large scale discussion in Ireland on tackling climate change in the lead up to the COP-21 meeting in Paris later this year. This is a crucial year for action on climate change; an international agreement is an essential result from the COP-21 meeting in Paris. French Ambassador, His Excellency Jean-Pierre Thébault said that Paris would be a success if the people made it so. He couldn’t stress enough the importance of civil society. Now is the time for every person to become engage, think, speak and act for the global good.

Authored by Jane Maher, TCD Geography


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