Mary Robinson Foto: InnoEnergy

The former President of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, believes that the European Commission should speed up the transition process of making energy generation more sustainable within the Member States. As a matter of urgency, we should get rid of fossil fuels. Otherwise, we will not be able to produce in a CO2 neutral way by 2050. She founded her own climate foundation, Climate Justice, in 2010, which stands up for the victims of climate change.

Robinson spoke with entrepreneurs who have start-ups in sustainable energy during the congress of the European investor InnoEnergy held last week in Paris.

Afterwards, we asked her three questions which we also submitted to Diego Pavía, the CEO of InnoEnergy. In contrast to investor Pavía, Robinson foresees resistance on the part of a number of member states because they appear to be persisting with coal-burning energy generation for now.

How do you see the roadmap towards 2030 for Europe? With the emission of the greenhouse gases having to be halved by then and completely carbon-free by 2050. What is the least that needs to be done in order to meet these targets?

“The first thing that needs to happen is that countries as well as large industrial companies commit themselves to the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. And that’s where they have to start operating from. We have a coalition of countries that are committed to carbon neutrality. There are about 20 countries and cities around the world that are working towards this. Hopefully this goal will be achieved by 2030. Then we will have to work on specific issues. Which, in the words of the UN Secretary-General, means ‘no new coal from 2020 onward.’ We must phase out the existing coal-fired power stations. We need innovation instead. Scientists told us in their report that limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees can be done if we have the political will.

I am particularly interested in how we can mobilize that political will from the grass roots level to urge governments to act. I see it happening: I see school children, young people, Extinction Rebellion members and female leaders standing up like never before. There are companies that are not based on fossil fuels, investors that no longer want to have anything to do with stranded assets [companies or shares in companies that can quickly decline in value because of the environmental damage they cause, ed.], philanthropic organizations, new trade unions, etc. All these parties together form a loose, wide-ranging movement. Which should now focus on various regions and countries and perhaps approach these from different perspectives. You see a very unusual alliance emerging. You see business leaders and investors joining civil society. You see women leaders standing up and trying to encourage governments and companies to take certain steps.”

What do you expect from the Green Deal from Commissioner Frans Timmermans, the paper on how the EU will achieve its 2030 and 2050 targets?

“I’m not sure if I’m well-informed enough to know about that. I am aware that there is a problem with abandoning coal. I think that the EU Member States have different levels of ambition in this area. So it is very important that the European Commission tries to encourage all countries to be more ambitious about leaving coal behind. On that point, for example, I am impressed by Denmark. At the climate summit, that country promised to emit 77% fewer greenhouse gases by 2030 [instead of the agreed 45%, ed.]. I think this is the most ambitious target so far.”

Do you see any obstacles to the adoption of the Green Deal by the Member States?

“It is very important at the moment for Europe to manifest itself as a leader and to demonstrate ambition. Europe used to be like that in the past. However, they have lost that leadership a little bit. They really need to step up their efforts. I think that requires major momentum within the various countries of the EU. One that will encourage leaders to understand that we are talking about a safe future for our children and grandchildren. Europe must take the lead. We have a historical responsibility for that. We are also in a position to take the lead. We have economies that can lead this energy transition and, in my opinion, should lead it. Otherwise, we will increasingly have to deal with the breakdown of society. People no longer tolerate ‘business as usual’. This breakdown can take many forms. It can manifest itself in an increasing number of lawsuits against companies, pressure from shareholders on companies, movements that rise up like Extinction Rebellion. They can be profit warnings from investors in companies that point out exposure to certain risks. If we don’t get an ambitious Green Deal, we’ll see more destabilization.”

But within the different EU Member States there are also movements and political parties that do not believe that climate change exists and who will oppose such an ambitious Green Deal.

“That’s right. Populism is on the rise. There is a backlash. But young people mainly look at the science. And the science is very clear. So I think this will be decisive. I’ve been asked to be the patroness of the International Science Council. This is a council that was created last year as the result of a merger between the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC). The importance of this is to bring the hard natural sciences and the social sciences together. This is crucial because this council is a body that wants to be the voice of science on a global level. I feel very strongly that we must continue to believe in science. That we have to keep science in mind under all circumstances. Science is the answer to the question of how we should tackle climate change. More and more the reports tell us that the climate problem is more urgent than previously thought and that the climate is changing faster. We must be vigilant in dealing with this situation.”

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