04 Dec 2015 Speech Climate change

"The legend in the arena"

The Right Honourable Mary Robinson, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, welcome!

The Sorbonne has to be the ultimate historic setting in which to strive towards the ultimate historic agreement ? one on which our very future depends.

So, let me start by thanking the many committed organizers of this event and all of you for taking the time to be here as we build momentum towards securing a climate agreement. The international environmental legal community, which is out in full force here today is critical both to securing that agreement and to all of the work that will follow.

We need strong environmental laws to make our global agreements work, while taking care of the myriad of issues related to the crippling effects of global warming. We need clear, fair regulations to protect the weakest. We need effective legislation to deliver a lasting impact. And, most of all, we need the experience and the expertise of the people here in this room today to make that happen.

That is why, as well as coordinating UN-wide activities through the Environmental Management Group, UNEP is committed to working with legislators around the world to develop and implement national laws on core issues like climate change, forestry and conservation; and to provide safeguards on related issues like equality and human rights.

Long-standing relationships with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association have already proved key in preparing the ground for engagement in this week's negotiations.

But we are also working with the network of parliamentarians at GLOBE International on a guide to help legislators understand and shape climate law. And we are working with partners around the world to produce legal guidelines on issues like mitigation, adaptation and REDD+, which are being used to help develop new laws in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Anglophone Africa. And finally, we are working on model legislation to support countries that may need to strengthen their climate laws in the wake of the Paris agreement.

I'm happy to say that all of that hard work is already paying off, because there is good news to report. In 99 countries around the world, there has been a significant increase in the number of climate-related laws, policies and institutional measures. Even better, these are not laws gathering dust in libraries; they are laws that tackle real issues for real men and women around the world.

In September, Ashgar Leghari, a farmer in Pakistan, made history when he won his case against the government for failing to develop a plan to protect him and his fellow citizens from the effects of climate change. The plan was required under the government's own national climate change policy. And in its ruling, the High Court of Justice in Lahore ordered the creation of a "climate council" to compel the state to uphold its environmental commitments.

In a similar case in the Netherlands, which was also brought by citizens, a Dutch court quoted extensively from UNEP's Emissions Gap Report.

Such rulings demonstrate the impact of our work to sensitize judiciaries around the world on environmental issues and to empower them with environmental legal principles and jurisprudence.

So, where we recognize the importance of "citizen science" in understanding and tackling climate change, perhaps it is also time to recognize the power of citizens in delivering global climate change policies in their local communities.

Such rulings also add weight to the inescapable link between climate change and the laws that govern human rights. UNEP has been working with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment to assess the links between these two fields and identify good practices.

This work is captured in a new report, Climate Change and Human Rights, which UNEP will launch here in Paris on the 10th of December, Human Rights Day. The report offers the most detailed and comprehensive study yet of the relationship between climate change and human rights law. It details how climate change will have a fundamental impact on human rights, and how governments and private actors should respond. It also provides essential guidance for climate policy, clearly illustrating the threat to human rights.

This is the kind of cooperation that we need to build on, when the ink dries on the Paris agreement and we need to start delivering it. In May, we have some early milestones to keep building the momentum, with: the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, and the second United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

UNEA is the highest-level global platform for environmental policy making, and it will feed directly into the UN General Assembly. Each of you here today is critical to making sure that we drive the environment agenda forward and protect the people most affected by it. So I encourage you all to join us and seize the opportunity to organize legal and governance initiatives like this, which can inspire global, national and local action.

Because even the best climate policies are useless in the absence of sound laws, smart regulations and strong people with the courage to enforce them. It is always easier for the critics to say that the task is too big, the challenges too many or the politics too complicated ? than for them to stand up and take action.

But bringing together civil society, lawmakers, government officials and the private sector under one roof, we can achieve real progress in developing and delivering ambitious action plans for the Paris agreement.

That makes the legendary Sorbonne the perfect place to highlight why you, as members of a very unique community, offer our best hope for building the legal frameworks to prevent global warming and protect us from its devastating effects. Because all legends start with real people. And only with your help and your strength in the arena of environmental law can we dream of securing a healthy planet and healthy people for generations to come.

So, as this historic climate change agreement comes together, let me leave you with words spoken just over 100 years ago by a certain Theodore Roosevelt, standing in this very university.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    My dear friends, you are standing in one of the toughest arenas in a generation. I wish you well and I offer you my full ? and personal ? support as you strive for a worthy cause like few others.

    Thank you.