Former President Mary Robinson has said it is extraordinary that many business leaders are more engaged, ambitious and thoughtful on climate issues than political leaders tend to be.

The climate justice campaigner also said business needs to both put pressure on and support government in tackling climate change.

She was speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland Thanksgiving lunch in Dublin, where she was awarded the 2019 Distinguished Leadership Award.

"It is hard as a democratically elected...political leader," she acknowledged.

"You've got to think about the next election, you've got to get re-elected to do what you want to do. Whereas business leaders are thinking we need to make more radical changes."

Mrs Robinson said she had seen first hand in the US the work being done behind politics by individual states, civil society, philanthropy and business.

"We need both the pressure of business and investment but also we need responsibility of governments to take those difficult decisions," she said.

"These are really difficult issues and somehow business has to both pressure and support government in coming to those decisions."

"And I say support government by being firmly of the view that you have to change and change more rapidly in order that we have a safe future for our children and grand children."

She also told the audience of business leaders that there are opportunities over the next decade for firms who embrace the sustainability agenda.

But she warned that if global warming isn't halted and the Earth warms to above 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, there will be chaos.

So there has to be change, she claimed. 

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also challenged the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland to make a pledge to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as members of Chambers Ireland already have.