Ireland is about to enter a challenging period as the Government applies greater urgency to climate action and the country comes to terms with demanding carbon budgets, the Taoiseach has said.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” Micheál Martin told the Dublin Climate Summit in UCD on Thursday. “There will be people coming to this kicking and screaming in terms of saying ‘your sector has to do this; your sector has to do that’. It will need a relentless focus.”
The response to climate change, he said, requires a great deal of collaboration but also “an honest conversation and a shared acceptance that we all need to change so much of how we do things will be vital if we are to succeed”.
He added: “Achieving Ireland’s climate goals will require changes across all sectors of society and the economy, reinforced by collaborative effort by Government, business, communities, and individuals to implement new and ambitious policies, technological innovations, systems and infrastructures.
“This will require changes in our collective and individual behaviours, including how we work, heat our homes, travel, consume goods and services, and manage our waste.”
Mr Martin said, “no sector is, or can be, unaffected by this shared, all-encompassing transition that we have embarked upon”, and that work was under way to set emissions ceilings across the economy, which will determine how each sector will contribute to achieving carbon budgets.
He said that while “climate change is the single greatest challenge we face as a country and as a planet”, there was a need to “consistently bring the pubic with us on this journey to ensure our children’s children have a quality environment to live in and the world is brought back from the abyss towards which it is currently heading”.
The immoral invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's Russia had also thrown into very sharp focus the need to phase out fossil fuels and develop renewable energy "at pace in a way that guarantees our energy security".
While Ireland had made significant progress towards deployment of renewable electricity, Mr Martin said “we must do much more and we must do it quickly”. Strategic public investment was vital to take action at the scale and at the pace required but investment needs “simply cannot be sustainably met by the public sector alone”.
EU finance ministers
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said climate change had become a core part of monthly Eurogroup meetings of EU finance ministers, which he chairs, and that this was not the case five years ago.
He said he thought Covid-19 would “shunt the issue to the side” but it reminded people of the intimate and deep link to their natural environment, so much so that a large share of the EU recovery fund of over €600 billion was designed to deliver projects that would help meet climate objectives.
The war in Ukraine raised the possibility of another derailment of the climate agenda but “again the opposite has happened”, Mr Donohoe said.
“Because what governments and ministers fully understand is that if we do want to become energy independent and we do want reduce our reliance – which will take time – on imported oil and gas . . . renewable energy is now the only medium-term game in town.”
Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said that despite Ireland's relatively strong economic standing and temperate climate, it was not immune to climate risks, "nor can we afford to avert our gaze from the damage that is occurring elsewhere".
The work of the news media was crucial to combatting climate change disinformation and denial and to debunking conspiracy theories, she said.
Irish news media had risen to the challenge of reporting on climate change, Ms Martin said. “There is now a vibrant public debate on how best we can, together as a society, mitigate the climate crisis and adapt while also protecting the most vulnerable. It is a debate that now influences all areas of policy, from the optimal design of our energy system to the role of the tax system. But of course, more can, should and will be done.”