Delivering on promised targets is best way to tackle climate crisis, says Varadkar

More needs to be done on home front but Irish emissions are coming down, says Taoiseach

World leaders coming to UN climate summits every year and setting more and more ambitious targets would best help address the climate crisis by delivering on what they promise to do, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking at a media briefing at the Cop28 summit in Dubai on Friday, he said: “The one thing that I very much bring to this conference is the view that we need to spend more time trying to keep our promises and meet our targets rather than always coming up with more ambitious language and higher targets. This is too serious for that. We need to do what we say we’re going to do.”

On global leaders making big promises, he said: “That’s fine. I’m not against that. But much more important is that we actually meet the targets we set and honour commitments that we’ve made.”

On Irish commitments, he said: “We’ve more to do in Ireland in terms of meeting our targets around reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We will do that. Emissions are falling, but not fast enough. And what we’ll do here in the global stage is to be a country that helps other countries out. And that’s through climate finance, in particular.”


As a small but wealthy nation Ireland’s best contribution would be to help poorer and more vulnerable nations invest in the climate-related adaptations they must make, including scaling up renewables, and to contribute to the “loss and damage” fund agreed on the first day of Cop28.

Mr Varadkar said he would announce Ireland’s contribution to the fund when delivering his statement to Cop28 on Saturday.

He said the Government would honour the commitment it has already made to increase its annual contribution to international climate finance to €225 million per year, and that any contribution he announces to the new “loss and damage” fund will come out of that money.

A small group of countries and the EU have pledged more than $500 million to seed the fund. This includes $145 million from the EU and $100 million from Cop host UAE. Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault said it should help rebuild trust between the global north and south after years of tense negotiations. Canada has committed $60 million.

On a worsening global picture, Mr Varadkar said: “We have to turn the tide. That’s the truth of it. Global emissions collectively are still rising. That means climate change is actually accelerating. [It] makes it extremely difficult to meet that 1.5 degree target over the next couple of years. We need to get to the point where emissions peak and start to fall.”

The sad reality was much climate change was now baked in, and “may never be reversed or at least can’t be reversed for decades”.

“That’s why we need to focus as well on things like adaptation. That’s going to be very important back home, in particular around flood relief schemes – also water conservation, making sure we’ve big enough reservoirs for the future.”

On the critical issue of fossil fuels, the Taoiseach said: “The language that we support as a country is that when it comes to fossil fuels we want to phase out unabated fossil fuels. What it does mean is phasing out oil and natural gas and coal and other fossil fuels over time. It doesn’t mean that they can never be used, but it means that if they are going to be used they have to be abated or offset in some way. And that’s the language that we’ll be signing up to here as a European Union, as a country.”

Mr Varadkar acknowledged financial and economic interests come into play. “The fossil fuel industry is an industry that needs to make the transition itself. And we see, for example, in Europe some companies, particularly the Nordic countries that were all about oil and gas, have now made the transition to renewables. And that’s the future for the energy industry ... It’s not about shutting them down. It’s about making the transition from old fuels to new fuels.”

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in his address to the global leaders’ summit spelt out the current level of severity of climate disruption. “Earth’s vital signs are failing. Climate collapse is pushing Earth towards dangerous climate tipping points that will cause a domino effect of accelerating, unimaginable change to our life-support systems. The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”

Britain’s King Charles echoed concerns about irreversible tipping points. “I pray with all my heart that Cop28 will be another critical turning point towards genuine transformational action at a time when, already, as scientists have been warning for so long, we are seeing alarming tipping points being reached. Unless we rapidly repair and restore nature’s economy, based on harmony and balance, which is our ultimate sustainer, our own economy and survivability will be imperilled.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times