Ireland is dangerously far behind where it needs to be in terms of climate action. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's speech to the UN Climate Summit was an opportunity to reframe Ireland's stance and recover our reputation.
Ireland’s global reputation on climate action is astonishingly poor. We are the third highest emitters of carbon in the EU and towards the bottom of the table for positive action.
The decision to cease issuing licences for oil exploration is welcome, particularly given that the Government had previously opposed this move. To hit the targets set in the Paris Agreement, the vast majority of known fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, so to grant licences to search for unknown reserves completely undermines all efforts to reduce climate change. Ending exploration is amongst the most basic actions we need to take.
The ban on exploration licences must also extend to gas. Opening up new fossil fuel reserves of any kind poses profound risks to society, the environment and the economy. There is abundant research to show that gas is not clean, not cheap and represents a drag on and not a support to decarbonisation.
The ring-fencing of carbon tax for climate action is also welcome, although to be effective this must be part of a far wider series of measures.
This Summit was called in recognition of the fact that current targets are too low. Ultimately, Ireland needs to sign-up to more ambitious targets. The new President-elect of the European Commission has proposed raising EU targets to 55 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030. The reality is that this is at the lower end of what is needed, but is still far ahead of what is currently planned. Trócaire wanted Ireland to seize this opportunity to back the increased targets. The Government failed to do that.
Activist Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech where she laid out the stark reality that people are dying and futures are being destroyed by political inaction. We are facing an unprecedented crisis. To continue to tinker around the edges is to betray the world’s young and the world’s poor.
The Taoiseach presented a series of initiatives, all valuable in their own right, but what we lack is an ambitious target that clearly sets the direction and gives us a benchmark against which to measure ourselves.
Nobody pretends this is an easy issue for Government to grapple with but even difficult action now will be easier than dealing with the repercussions of inaction in the years ahead.
Caoimhe de Barra is CEO of Trócaire