Climate solution may lie in cheap technologies, conference told

Major slowdown in global emissions ‘the most that can be hoped for’ over five years

Chairman of the Government's National Expert Advisory Council on Climate Change Dr John FitzGerald has said it is not realistic to expect the US, China or India to dramatically cut living standards in the near future.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem of climate change may lie with cheap technologies, he said.

Last June Dr FitzGerald was last June appointed chair of the council, set up to advise Government on significantly decarbonising the Irish economy by 2050.

Prof FitzGerald was speaking at a conference on Laudato Si, Pope Francis's encyclical on climate change in Dublin's Balally parish. In attendance were Minister for Communications Alex White and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.


Standards of living

A major slowdown in global emissions was the most that can be hoped for in addressing climate change over the next five years, Prof FitzGerald said. The world must "dramatically reduce standards of living or find new ways of producing clean energy that will maintain living standards", he said.

"Realistically, requiring China and India to halt a rise in living standards, and Europe and the US to dramatically cut living standards, will not happen in the near future," he said. An alternative for the period 2020-50 was to "develop technological solutions" for which tax-financed research was "an essential ingredient".

It “needs a market solution too” as “a promise of a higher cost of carbon will encourage a myriad of firms to invest in research”. Already major progress had been made through windmills, solar power, electric cars and other technologies but there was “still a long way to go”, he said.

"If we don't take action Africa will suffer severely, while in Ireland we might possibly be 'better off' with a Mediterranean climate. The case for action is a moral one, not a case of self-interest," he said.

"Ultimately the solution may lie with new cheap technologies," he said.

“A minority may benefit from action today but for most there will be a cost,” he said. “Justification for the cost today is the welfare of future generations, as yet unborn,” he continued.

‘Social revolution’

Msgr Dermot Lane, parish priest at Balally and organiser of the conference, said the encyclical called for "nothing less than a social revolution and a radical ecological conversion". It told us that "we must learn, not only to love God and neighbour, but also to love the Earth as a vital part of God's creation".

He commented on a footnote in the encyclical which referred to writings of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who died in 1955.

By giving a foot-note to de Chardin “Francis is not only rehabilitating him, but pointing us in a particular direction - namely one that seeks to learn from the close relationship that can exist between science and Christianity”, Msgr Lane said.

Other speakers at the conference included Columban priest Fr Seán McDonagh, who had input into Laudato Si, theologian Sr Celine Mangan, Fr Padraig McCarthy and Dr Lorna Gold of Trócaire.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times