Environmental debate with Canadian Minister for the Environment, The Honourable Catherine McKenna

Haughton Lecture Theatre, Museum Building

12th October


Chancellor, Minister (1), Ambassador (2), Colleagues, and Students,

It’s my very great pleasure to welcome you to the Museum Building for this exceptional event.

This is the second time this year that Canada’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, has visited Ireland. She was here during the summer with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and they took part in a roundtable hosted by the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald T.D. which covered Sustainability & Climate Finance. It is a measure of Minister McKenna’s deep commitment to engaging on climate action that she has returned for this Leadership Seminar.

Trinity is honoured to be hosting this Seminar and I know how excited our students are to have Minister McKenna lead them in debate on such vital issues for our planet’s future.

In Trinity we are most fortunate that our Chancellor Mary Robinson is a world leader on these issues and has established the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice, a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We’re delighted to welcome the Chancellor here today for this Seminar.

We are here to talk about Canada’s leadership on climate change – which is of such global importance – and we’re here to talk about women’s leadership in this sector, and about youth involvement. So I don’t want to be taking time from those discussions.

But on behalf of staff, students and alumni, let me talk, very briefly, about environmental and sustainability policies here in Trinity College Dublin.

The key for us, as I think for all responsible universities and institutions, is to find ways to ensure that environmentalism and sustainability are horizontal activities – that they go across the university, influencing education, research, innovation and how we run the college.

It would not be enough to have excellent environmental and natural science research were this not backed up by sustainable and conservationist practices.

In our current five-year Strategic Plan, launched in 2014, we enshrine our commitment to (I quote) being

“a global leader in university sustainability”

and to

“enhancing the environment, conserving natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting society as a whole.”

How do we deliver on this goal? In a number of ways – for example through attaining Green Flag campus status which commits us to a series of objectives for energy and carbon emissions, waste management and litter reduction, water management, and sustainable transport.

And, as another example, the Campus Pollinator Plan which commits to making our campus an attractive environment for pollinators, including keeping honeybee hives.

A key action in our University Sustainability Plan is to “promote the campus as a living laboratory”. We want to generate ideas, products and services for sustainable living.

In this context we’re particularly excited about our planned new Engineering, Environment and Energy Institute, E3, which is to be a major engagement between Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Computer Science, as well as nanotechnology and biomedical sciences.

E3 will set radical agendas where technology and nature meet, ensuring that Ireland is at the vanguard internationally in meeting the emerging opportunities in energy and engineering design, while sustaining natural capital.

The university is proactive on environmentalism but we are also led by our students. It was students in the Environmental Society who first campaigned for Trinity to divest from fossil fuels. And it was students who convened Divestment Week here on campus, last year, and invited staff to showcase their research on climate change.

And in our student innovation accelerators, some of the most exciting projects are sustainable ones, including the extensively reviewed FoodCloud, which tackles food wastage by linking restaurants and caterers up with charities. This is a direct, simple sustainable solution, conceived, scaled, and marketed by students.

Our students are inspiring and their commitment gives us hope. I thank and congratulate Minister McKenna that her focus on her trip is on inspiring youth involvement.

On sustainability and climate – and on what we can do as a university – I think simultaneously two things. I think of the words of our great graduate, Edmund Burke who wrote:

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

I believe that, yes, every recycled bottle and honeybee hive, counts. And I believe that if every individual could commit to acting responsibly and sustainably, we could collectively achieve miracles.

Simultaneously I know that to confront a problem of the scale of climate change requires radical new thinking.

Small steps and radical leaps. For both we need leadership. Allow me to pay tribute to Canada’s global leadership and to Minister McKenna and Chancellor Robinson’s personal leadership, and let us collectively – staff, students, alumni - commit to furthering sustainability through education, research, innovation and public engagement.

And now to introduce the Minister, please welcome our Chancellor Dr Mary Robinson.

Thank you.

*  *  *

(1) Catherine McKenna, Canadian Minister for the Environment and Climate Change
(2) Kevin Vickers, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland