Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has strongly denied there are differences within the Government on how exactly to phase out fossil fuels and confirmed that Ireland will deploy controversial carbon-capture and storage technologies in the coming years.
Speaking during a media briefing at Cop28 in Dubai on Sunday, Mr Ryan said the Government was at one in supporting the phasing-out of fossil fuels.
“Hands up, and be honest here. We’re going to do carbon capture and storage (CCS),” he said.
CCS involves capturing the carbon dioxide produced by power generation or industrial activity, transporting it and then storing it deep underground. Opponents say the method is unproven at scale and costly when other viable decarbonisation options are available.
The push for agreement on phasing out fossil fuels has dominated the climate talks in Dubai.
Friends of the Earth has called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to clarify exactly what he meant by “a planned reduction in the use of fossil fuels” when he addressed Cop28 on Saturday.
Its chief executive, Oisín Coghlan, said: “Italy’s new prime minister straightforwardly committed to the goal of phasing out fossil fuels. The Taoiseach’s language was more ambiguous, if not evasive. We need the Government to clarify that Ireland is committed to phasing out fossil fuels entirely, not just reducing them. If the Italian Government can speak plainly, surely the Irish Government can too.”
Mr Ryan said to meet Ireland’s targets in the next national climate plan, phasing out fossil fuels will be identified as one of additional measures needed, including using CCS at the incinerator in Ringsend, Dublin and cement plants.
“You can do that. You can take the carbon. So we’ll be doing carbon capture and storage in Ireland. And so in that context, the Taoiseach is correct,” he added. “But you can’t use that as a cover for unsustainable fossil fuel expansion. The idea that we’re going to have a massive expansion of fossil fuels with new oilfields, new gas discoveries is not in line with the 1.5 degree [global temperature limit] which [Cop28 president] Sultan al-Jaber describes here as the North Star we need to stick to.”
Mr Ryan accepted some people have valid concerns that abatement – ie using CCS – could be used as a get-out-of-jail card for the fossil fuel industry.
He said “real scientific assessment” was needed of how much abatement would be required “for the likes of the steel and cement sector. So, yes, there will be CCS abatement, but it can’t be a cover for ... unsustainable and unsafe fossil fuel expansion”.
After his address to Cop28 on Saturday, Mr Varadkar defended his position on getting rid of unabated fossil fuels despite UN secretary general António Guterres and Pope Francis, via a message read to the event, calling for unequivocal elimination of fossil fuels.
The Taoiseach said: “The objective here is to stop climate change and stop global warming and maybe even be able to reverse it in a few decades time. How do we do that? We do it by phasing out fossil fuels. But if it’s the case that there are technologies like carbon capture and storage that can be developed to stop those gases going into the atmosphere, then that achieves the objective.”
He rejected the view that the technologies were decades away and so should not be considered an option.
“I would have heard people 10 years ago laughing at the idea that we would have solar farms in our lands. And look how much that technology has changed,” he said. “We need to be open to new technologies. And just because they mightn’t be commercially viable for 10 years or 20 years. That that’s not a reason to dismiss them, because this is a problem that we’re going to be dealing with for decades.”
The Taoiseach accepted this should not be used to justify the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Mr Guterres, however, told global leaders on Friday: “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 time frame aligned with 1.5 degrees.”
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