Former volunteer leading climate action in Scotland: ‘It’s 30 years since I volunteered with Raleigh International, but I still carry its legacy even now.’

13th June 2019

Raleigh alumnus Mike Robinson has spent over 20 years advocating for action on climate change and working across Scotland to make substantial shifts in policy and practice. In his own words, Mike shares his journey from Raleigh volunteer to Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, one that has seen him change Scottish law and influence countless groups and organisations into effecting meaningful environmental change.

‘It all began with volunteering; with Raleigh, in Malaysian Borneo and then Edinburgh with small local groups. I then became a Trustee of Survival International, hosting Yanomami and Bagyeli [indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest] leaders in Scotland and trying to raise concern for indigenous rights of forest communities around the world. I then began volunteering with the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), which led to a job with them and allowing me to work directly for biodiversity. The more I did the more I realised needed to be done and the more I tried to do.

‘By the late 1990s my focus was largely on climate change and this spiralling effort led me, in 2006, to help establish and Chair Stop Climate Chaos Scotland – the largest environmental coalition ever formed in Scotland – which campaigned for the Scottish Climate Change Act. After a huge civil society campaign and effort, the Act became law in 2009. It contained an ambitious 42% emissions reduction target, making it the most stringent climate legislation in the world. We successfully lobbied to establish the world’s first climate justice fund and promoted our success at the 2009 Copenhagen UN climate change conference and the G20 by presenting world leaders with a 42% proof bottle of whisky, echoing the headline target!

‘I remain on the board still and this year we will see a renewed commitment in a new Scottish act, hopefully committing to a net zero emissions target by 2045. But targets are only that. The emphasis is now all about delivery.’

Mike (right) with Laurent Fabius (centre-L), Chair of the Paris Climate agreement

Mike is now working with the University of Stirling, University of Edinburgh, Institute of Directors, and the Scottish Government to produce an online qualification on climate solutions which every manager and student will eventually take. After piloting in Scotland, he plans to roll this out more broadly. He also has advice for politicians and others who want to make a difference on climate change: work together and focus on taking real action to protect our shared futures.

‘We are only going to successfully tackle climate change if everyone helps. Up until 1980 climate change was the accidental consequence of being unsustainable. But since 1980 it has been a conscious choice about how we live. It is a difficult thing to be involved in because it can be overwhelming and hugely disheartening. Recent global reports and protests have added to that urgency and anxiety leading to the Scottish, Welsh and UK parliaments declaring a ‘climate emergency’. It is crucial, I believe, to remain focused on what we can do and put positive energy into delivering them.

More than 8000 people march through Glasgow to appeal for climate action

‘It is also vital that we take responsibility and act. Climate change is on one level an issue of inter-generational justice: we have borrowed from the future without proper consideration of the consequences. Ours are the generations that are going to have to solve this crisis, especially those of us who are in a position to influence change. We cannot and must not wait for future generations to sort it out – it’s too urgent for that. So, where opportunities arise to bring about change, we need to grab them or create them.’

Mike volunteered with Raleigh in 1991 on the Expedition programme in Malaysian Borneo, which he identifies as the foundation for his commitment and drive to hold positions that create impactful change.

Mike on his Raleigh Expedition in Borneo in 1991

‘It’s nearly 30 years since I went to Borneo with Raleigh International, but I still carry its legacy even now. Many of my closest friends are ex-venturers and staff, drawn from a very vibrant Edinburgh Raleigh support group from the 1990s. But more than this, the experience has helped shape my attitude to life and my career since. I have always been passionate about the environment. Spending time in the Borneo rainforest really reinforced and channelled this concern. Raleigh gave me more self-belief, and really opened my eyes to other possibilities in life and work. It gave me the confidence and the day to day courage to have a go.

‘It also greatly reinforced my sense of needing to give something back to society, which is such a central tenet of Raleigh philosophy. Now, I believe we owe it to future generations to truly do everything we can to halt climate change. Now is the chance for our generation to truly give something back.’

Mike was recently our speaker at our #RaleighTogether event in Edinburgh, and you can find out more about the Royal Scottish Geographical Society here.

If you’ve been inspired by his story and want to get involved in meaningful action, join us on June 26th to lobby for Climate Action!

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