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Government action needed to finally end fossil fuel exploration

01 August 2019

While various stakeholders were busy poring over the details of the recently-published Climate Action Plan, the Government were quietly planning the derailing of the Climate Emergency Measures Bill ahead of the Dáil recess.

Thousands of young Irish students gathered at Merrion square in Dublin today as part of the school strikes for climate change, happening across the world. Students demanded that the government take action on climate change. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire.

The Climate Emergency Measures Bill – which would end fossil fuel exploration – was scuppered by the Government with their use of a Money Message to block the Bill, despite the fact that a majority of TDs have twice voted in support of it.

Opposition Parties and many expert commentators alike have called out the Government’s democratically dubious tactics to belatedly afford itself a veto on the ability of the Bill to progress.

The rhetoric of Government leaders in launching their new Climate Action Plan – including statements that we must leave the earth in a better state to our children than we found it – rings exceptionally hollow given their persistent, baffling support for continued fossil fuel exploration off Ireland’s coasts. 

Energy security is the argument put forward to justify this argument, but new indigenous fossil fuel reserves cannot be pre-requisite for energy security if we cannot know whether there are any – and, even if there were, we do not know whether they would ever be commercially viable to extract.  At this late stage, opening up new fossil fuel reserves anywhere in the world poses grave risks to humanity. 

"Energy must not destroy civilisation"

In June, Pope Francis convened CEOs from some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world for a dialogue on climate action. They were reminded by the Holy Father, “Civilisation needs energy, but energy must not destroy civilisation”. 

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, was also in attendance at the Vatican and she castigated fossil fuel executives, asking, “What could be more cynical than still seeking to exploit fossil fuel reserves when the scientific evidence is abundantly clear that we need to end all combustion of fossil fuels by 2050?”

As recently as last summer lives were lost in rich and poor countries alike due to heatwaves and wildfires. Let us not forget that people in southern Africa are still picking up the pieces following the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, which compounded the effects of persistent drought in the region and the need for food aid will remain exceptionally high through to 2020 as a result.

There are a number of important new innovations in the Government’s Climate Action Plan which are welcome. However, it is far from an adequate response to the scale and urgency of the crisis that is unfolding globally.   

In his address to fossil fuel industry leaders, Pope Francis’ remarks mirrored the Dáil’s recent declaration that we are facing is indeed a ‘climate emergency’. The Holy Father insisted, “We must take action in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations”.

A message of hope, courage and conviction

Legislating to end fossil fuel exploration would make Ireland the fifth country in the world to take this action. It would prompt an increase in ambition in Ireland and send an incredibly important message of hope, courage and conviction across the globe that this crisis is something we can and must reign in with bold action.

As TDs take their recess, they must reflect on the profound duty they bear to protect this generation and the next from this unprecedented threat to humanity. They must return in the autumn with renewed ambition and urgency to legislate for the end to the now dangerous fossil fuel exploration industry. They must also advance the many other measures needed to align Ireland with the global effort needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement. For all our sakes.

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