The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) commences today, the 30th of November and runs until 11th of December in Paris, France. Negotiators from 196 Parties (countries that have ratified the convention) are expected to conclude four years of negotiation with the first global climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997.
Climate Change, understood to be the significant changes to the climate (including temperature, wind and rainfall) due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels, is the greatest environmental challenge the world faces today. Climate change intensifies poverty, food insecurity and water scarcity - affecting those in vulnerable circumstances the most and exacerbating existing inequalities. This is one of the greatest injustices of our time.
Recent scientific data from the UK Met Office shows that 2015 is likely to be the warmest year on record - it is imperative that the global community comes together now to heed the warnings of science and preserve the world for all of us. They must set the goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century and keeping the possibility of stabilizing global warming below 1.5oC alive.
Global warming exceeding 1.5oC poses a threat to the very existence of some of the world’s most vulnerable countries - it is vital that this goal is prioritized. From a climate justice perspective, whether the final agreement protects the rights of the most vulnerable will be a key measure of its success.
This year's International Human Rights Lecture was delivered by Graça Machel, one of the world’s leading women’s and children's rights activists who has campaigned tirelessly to champion equality for women and children. Machel is the former freedom fighter, Mozambique's first Education Minister, a founding member of the Elders and the widow of the late Nelson Mandela.
Machel’s lecture at The Mary Robinson Centre addressed equality and justice for all in our society, looking at issues in today’s world that adversely affect women and children, including climate change, political and social unrest and the current migrant crisis, and presented a different Africa than perhaps the one we are familiar with.
At the podium, Machel profiled strong female leaders who have contributed to Africa’s political, social and economic development and spoke about the level of parliamentary gender representation achieved in countries like Rwanda (63 percent), South Africa (42 percent) and Mozambique (39 percent).
However, she also notes that there is still much to do on a global level. Machel spoke of the ‘painfully slow pace’, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, “of recognising that this person, who is a woman, is a complete human being, with human rights.”
“Women have moved from obscurity to visibility, but we have yet to gain the influence and capacity needed to assert action that will benefit not just women, but men and women, the human family and human dignity as a whole.” Graça Machel
A discussion between Graça Machel and Mary Robinson followed the lecture, facilitated by journalist Olivia O’Leary.
More coverage of the lecture in the Irish Times and the Mayo News.
The Mary Robinson Centre hosted its first workshop for the academic programme on the 28th of November. This workshop focussed on the legal, humanitarian and community responses to the refugee and migrant crisis, with a discussion about the implications for Ireland and the Direct Provision system.
Over 60 million people have been displaced globally through conflict and natural disaster, and 2015 has seen higher numbers of migrants and refugees on the move than at any time since WWII, with Europe as the focus of much attention. Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa has resulted in dramatic increases in those seeking refuge in Europe, while funding cuts to search and rescue operations have led to many more drownings in the Mediterranean.
An effective official EU response to the crisis has been slow, but the tide is turning, with greater public awareness of the tragedy. Germany and Austria now show stronger leadership, community groups all over Europe have banded together to bring supplies to Calais and Ireland has pledged to welcome more refugees under the European relocation scheme.
Speakers at the workshop included:
Deirdre Campbell - a humanitarian and development practitioner with over 10 years of experience on Gender Based Violence. Deirdre worked in international humanitarian response in both Angola and Sudan and has 7 years’ experience in rape crisis and domestic violence support services in the UK and Ireland. Deirdre has been Coordinator of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence since 2013.
Stephen Ng'ang'a - has been involved with the fight for justice and equality for over 20 years, both in Ireland and in Kenya. Stephen was a member of the Working Group set-up by the government to look into the protection process in Ireland. Part of the Group's remit was to examine the issues around Direct Provision services in Ireland. He will be speaking about the experience of migrants in Ireland.
Dr Ciara Smyth - a lecturer in the School of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she teaches Public International Law, International Human Rights and Immigration Law. Ciara has worked for a number of non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations in Ireland and abroad, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Ciara was appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality to the Working Group on the Protection Process, which made recommendations to government about how the Irish protection process can be improved.
The women whose stories form part of the Migrant Women: Shared Experiences Exhibition also joined the workshop for an interactive discussion on life in Ireland today for recent migrants.