Ireland among most ambitious on climate action, Tánaiste insists

Businesses have key role in decarbonisation and opportunity to ‘create new jobs’

“Climate change is a threat to all of us and transitioning to a low-carbon economy is a major priority for the Government.” Photograph: David Sleator

“Climate change is a threat to all of us and transitioning to a low-carbon economy is a major priority for the Government.” Photograph: David Sleator

 

With Ireland’s new climate law, the country “is now one of the most ambitious countries in the world on climate”, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Climate change is a threat to all of us and transitioning to a low-carbon economy is a major priority for the Government,” he said in address to the annual energy show staged by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

“Our targets will require a huge shift in the energy we use, how we manage our waste, our housing stock and transport systems,” he added.

Businesses had a really important role to play in the overall decarbonisation effort that was about to be pursued across the economy, Mr Varadkar said.

“I see climate action as an enormous opportunity to create new jobs and grow businesses. Those that adapt quickly and move first will have the most to gain,” he added.

“As the world emerges from Covid-19, we need to understand that there will be no return to the old normal. We will need to build back better and prioritise the sustainable investments that underpin a global green recovery and the transition to low-carbon economies,” he underlined.

“If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that no challenge is insurmountable in the face of our collective spirit and ingenuity. We can employ those same traits to respond to the climate crisis.”

Rapid reaction

SEAI chief executive William Walsh said the climate target of a 51 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 presented an unprecedented challenge to all sectors, and would require building a movement spanning across business and industry. “Business will have to rapidly react in embracing decarbonisation this decade,” he added.

Decarbonising the heat sector would present unique challenges, he confirmed, while “enormous amounts of innovation and collaboration” would be required in the economy, which the SEAI would help to facilitate.

SEAI business and public sector head Fergus Sharkey said: “More than ever, it is imperative that Ireland use less energy, move away from fossil fuels, and take advantage of innovative energy solutions to address the climate crisis. The good news is there are already communities, businesses, individuals and organisations blazing a trail for the rest of us to follow.”

SEAI’s role in helping businesses, he added, went beyond providing grants. A vital role was engaging with companies when many were not considering the climate issue and associated risk – and then building capacity to respond.

Energy-efficient technologies

Much could be done on energy use and in reducing emissions without great financial costs, Mr Sharkey noted, while the authority was enabling them to invest in clean and energy-efficient technologies.

Yvonne Holmes, chief sustainability officer with AIB, said major companies needed more dedicated focus at senior level on sustainability given the huge change and transformation required. For the bank to reduce emissions, it needed to grow “green lending” while supporting efforts to transition to net-zero.

This included assessing borrowers for climate risk, evaluating transition plans and looking at sectors most prone to climate risk. But, she stressed, it was a journey where businesses were not required to go from zero to 100 in one step.

Shane Conneely of Chambers Ireland said companies should not dismiss decarbonisation on cost grounds, “because if they do nothing, the price of carbon will continue to rise” and make them more uncompetitive. On the plus side, given the scale of Irish wind resources, including offshore, the marginal cost of electricity will tend towards zero, he predicted.