Mary Robinson: Business and governments must avoid net-zero ‘hypocrisy’

EXCLUSIVE: The former president of Ireland Mary Robinson has claimed that net-zero commitments made by governments and corporates must lead to a "just transition" that also combats the "hypocrisy" of ignoring fossil fuel developments further afield.

Mary Robinson: Business and governments must avoid net-zero ‘hypocrisy’

Robinson said that nations couldn't look to make themselves net-zero while continuing to fund polluting projects in developing countries

Robinson, an ex-UN commissioner for human rights who has twice served as a UN climate envoy, expressed her disappointment in the “lack of action that really counts” in the global effort to mitigate the climate crisis. She was speaking exclusively to edie on the day that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the COP26 climate conference strategy, pledging to deliver a “year of climate action” in the build-up to the conference in Glasgow later this year.

Like many, Robinson welcomed the UK’s net-zero emissions target for 2050, which has been enshrined into law. However, she warned that net-zero targets shouldn’t be built on “hypocrisy” that sees a nation focus on decarbonising while supporting fossil fuels in developing countries.

This has been evident in the UK. While ministers are keen to badge the net-zero target as “world-leading”, the Guardian recently revealed that almost £2bn in UK funding went to oil and gas in African countries, despite the UK pledging to propel clean energy in the continent.

“In 2020, we need, if possible, to have every country, every corporation and every city commit to zero carbon by 2050 and work backwards,” Robinson said. “If we could achieve that we’re really on course.”

“We need all the leadership we can get between now and Glasgow. We have to see the G20 as a whole to commit to going much further. We have to stop thinking we can be carbon-neutral in the UK and invest in oil exploration outside the UK. That’s not good enough, that’s hypocrisy.”

The European Commission’s Just Transition Fund is intended to support regions that will be particularly affected by the changes brought by ‘greening’ the economy and supports the bloc’s mooted net-zero commitment. Robinson claimed these types of support mechanisms would be crucial in delivering a global response to the climate crisis, rather than the individual efforts of nations.

However, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by nations as part of the Paris Agreement do not account for emissions outside of each nation’s scope, an overlook described as a “flaw” by Robinson.

Business implications

Robinson noted that the same applied to businesses, who couldn’t use their financial power to support polluting sectors if they’d set a net-zero target. Microsoft, for example, has recently pledged to reduce its carbon impact to below net-zero by 2030, with an additional goal of removing carbon from the atmosphere that the company has emitted since it was founded in 1975. However, the tech giant is still inking major deals with oil industry giants like Chevron and Schlumberger.

Robinson echoed the growing notion for businesses to seek out the “real” zero, which focuses on regenerative value chains where businesses seek to rapidly decarbonise and improve the natural landscape across its global footprint.

Referencing her own Foundation’s work on “climate justice”, Robinson claimed that businesses should be supporting workers in the fossil fuel industry in transitioning to a green economy while empowering and supporting those most at risk to the climate crisis.

“Businesses reach through their value chains into communities,” Robinson added. “It does make a difference if you hear the account of a woman whose village is being undermined by drought or flooding and they need a group to fight back and be more resilient.

“We will not make the progress we need to make unless we fund a just transition. It’s not just workers in oil, gas and coal, but those working in the automotive industry too, we should be setting aside funds for reskilling, it is extraordinarily important.”

“Scientists made it clear that climate has put us in a very serious position and in this crisis we have to see the opportunity, we can no longer continue with business as usual. We have to be transformative and that will require real leadership.”

Matt Mace

Comments (2)

  1. Ken Pollock says:

    It would be more helpful if Mrs Robinson offered some idea of how one would run the economy without fossil fuels – and in particular how we would help less developed economies attain the levels of prosperity we enjoy if they are not to use oil and gas.
    But why is one not surprised? She is not an engineer, knows nothing of what is required to achieve her "net zero" economy, and prefers to dilate on how terrible everything is now, without the slightest idea of how to change – without impoverishing everyone!
    We need politicians in touch with reality, and not listening to the doomsayers! Remember there is barely a single prediction about how our world is in danger of catastrophe that has not proven false. Why should we believe them now?

  2. Andy Cook says:

    Ken, I agree with the need for solutions rather than dialogue saying all fossil fuels are bad. For example, how could renewables operate without firming from gas turbines? That firming only makes up a small proportion of the total energy generation, so it’s contribution is small but it provides a buffer for the intermittent nature of renewables.

    However, I would have to disagree with you on "barely a single prediction about how our world is in danger of catastrophe that has not proven false". I’m assuming you’re referring to climate models, do you have any peer reviewed evidence to support this?

    Please see this research paper which concludes that 14 out of 17 climate models studied were indistinguishable from what actually occurred.

    Further reading:

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