Thousands of protesters invaded the streets of Copenhagen over the weekend to ramp up pressure on climate negotiators working on a pact to curb global warming.
"This conference is make or break for the world: it's not like a trade talk," said Robinson, who stressed that the huge, peaceful demonstrations were a reminder that people are watching.
Climate change has negatively affected human rights in many parts of the world, said Robinson. Accordingly, the Global Humanitarian Forum has estimated that climate change impacts killed more than 300,000 people last year.
"If there is greater water stress, if there are more floods, if desertification is pushing millions of people to become environmental refugees […] yes, it's more likely that we will face conflicts," argued Robinson.
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for a migration management system to anticipate significant movement of people from parts of Africa that will become too dry or low-lying regions that are expected to flood.
Adaptation funds are key to addressing these challenges, said Robinson, who backs non-governmental organisation Oxfam in its call for $200 bn a year after 2012 and immediate finance of $10 bn until 2012 to help poor countries face expected natural disasters.
"These figures are very reasonable when you see the money that is immediately pledged to bail-out banks or indeed the defence budget spent by major countries on armaments and weapons of death," she said. "The money is there: it is a question of what is the priority."
Human rights at stake: More lawsuits to come
In responding to climate change, governments have traditionally approached the phenomenon as an ecological problem or more recently as an economic one. To date, the social and human rights implications of climate change have received little attention.
Recently, UK Secretary of State for Environment and Climate Change Ed Miliband said that climate change raises profound questions of justice and equity: between generations, between developed and developing countries and between rich and poor within each country. "The challenge is to find an equitable distribution of responsibilities and rights," he said.
Activists are increasingly arguing that human rights law is relevant to climate change because the disasters it brings cause human rights violations. "We have collectively failed to grasp the scale and urgency of the problem," said Robinson, stressing that climate change reveals countless weaknesses in the current institutional architecture.
As climate change impacts increase, human rights litigation cases will become the norm, Robinson predicts.
Climate change and human rights were first linked explicitly in December 2005, when an alliance of Inuit from Canada and the United States filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
The petition alleged that the human rights of the plaintiffs had been infringed and were being further violated due in large part to the failure of the US to curb its greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Robinson, such cases will grow in number. But also, the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed in April to classify six key greenhouse gases, including CO2 and methane, as a threat to public health is an important step.
"That means that those that are producing high-level emissions and not taking corrective action might face lawsuits," said the former Irish president.
Need for political leadership
To prevent an escalation of litigation cases and further civil unrest, real political leadership is needed in Copenhagen.
"We must have both the decision that puts us on the trajectory to staying in a safe world well below 2 degrees C by 2050 and 450 parts per million [concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere] and we need the money for adaptation, or we will have such a divided and desperate world that we cannot live in peace together," Robinson said.
Criticising the EU for failing to take the lead, Robinson said "leadership is not waiting for others, it's going ahead"' She pointed the finger not only at the EU but also at Japan for saying it will only go for 25% if others come to the table.
"I look at it rather personally as all should and must. I have to change my lifestyle like everybody else," Robinson concluded.
Robinson was speaking to Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.