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2017 Climate Change Conference

Remarks by Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, at the 4th Annual Climate Change Conference, featuring keynote speaker Mary Robinson

March 16, 2017

Thank you, Nancy (Tuchman), and congratulations to you and everyone at the Institute for Environmental Sustainability, the Gannon Center, and the Baum Family Fund for convening this important conference.

I am delighted to join you at this very special event. This conference highlights our institutional commitment to protecting our environment, raising awareness about the threats to our planet, and inspiring a collective desire to promote climate justice, locally and globally. As one of the seven greenest campuses in the United States, we aspire to walk-the-walk through sustainable building and resource management at Loyola, as well as teach and conduct research on solutions to environmental problems.

This conference provides a unique opportunity to explore the many facets of climate change, including the science, ethics, economics, technology, and human justice components. As Pope Francis detailed in his Laudato Si, or “Praise Be To You” encyclical in May 2015, there is an inseparable bond between the concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and inner peace. The Pope has called on all of us to be actively engaged in promoting justice, working together to solve the interconnected societal and environmental crises that plague our world and our communities. The turnout for tonight’s event is a tremendous showing of support for that shared commitment.

While there is much still to learn, research, and debate about climate change, we know and have experienced that our planet is warming because of human activity, affecting the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole and, indeed, our own backyards. We have seen record-breaking hurricanes on the South and East Coasts, massive droughts and wildfires in the West followed by unprecedented flooding, and we have experienced longer summers as well as polar jet streams in winter in Chicago. Climate change is a driver of food and water insecurity, which disproportionately affects the most poor and vulnerable members of our society. We also know that reducing our energy use and consumption of goods not only protects the environment, but strengthens our communities, reduces inequality, and ensures that future generations have clean air, water, and soil for a healthy life. 

These are issues that all of us at Loyola are passionate about addressing in real and lasting ways. Our Loyola climate action plan commits us to innovative steps toward carbon neutrality by 2025 and to provide resources and experiences to our students so that they are climate literate in whatever field they choose to study here. This past January, Loyola was presented with the 2016 Climate Leadership Award by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and Solution Generation. This award recognizes the American Catholic higher education institution that is taking the lead on climate change nationally with specific mention given to our focus on environmental justice both in and beyond the classroom for the benefit of our neighbors, our community, and the next generation. We were honored to have been singled out for our commitment—and the commitment of our students—to furthering climate justice. 

But enough about Loyola.

It is my honor to introduce this evening’s keynote speaker, who, perhaps more than anyone, knows that climate justice is human justice.

Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and founder and president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. She received her education at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King’s Inns Dublin, and Harvard Law School—to which she won a fellowship.

As an academic, legislator, and barrister, she sought to use law as an instrument for social change, arguing landmark cases before the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court in Luxembourg, as well as in the Irish courts. She also served on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees.

A recipient of numerous honors and awards throughout the world, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, President Robinson is a member of the Elders, the former Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, and a member of the Club of Madrid. In 2004, she received Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

President Robinson serves on several boards including the European Climate Foundation and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society. She now serves as President of the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice. Between 2013 and 2014, she was the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. From 2014 to 2015 she was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change. And in May 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed President Robinson as a Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate, a position she continues to hold today.

We are delighted to welcome President Robinson to our campus on the eve of the Feast of St. Patrick, and to together participate in the “wearing of the green” on behalf of climate justice. 

Please join me in welcoming President Mary Robinson.

Thank you.