Europe’s green new deal leaps climate issue centre stage, Ryan says

Legally-binding plan includes commitment to work towards carbon neutrality by 2050

Europe's green new deal (GND) amounts to a leap that brings the climate issue centre stage in EU policy, and for the first time raises the possibility that the scale of action required is realisable, according to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

The deal announced on Wednesday included a legally binding commitment by the EU to work towards carbon neutrality by 2050 and a 50-55 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030.

Speaking in Madrid, he said that after 25 years highlighting the threat of climate disruption, the EU was pursuing “really ambitious, meaningful action”.

He added: “I have to believe that that is possible now, that the stars are aligning despite all the justifiable pessimism because emissions continue to rise, and the climate risks become more apparent by the day.”


For Ireland within the EU it was a huge opportunity, provided it joined in leading implementation of the transition rather that following it. "We are better placed than we think, particularly on the political side," Mr Ryan added.

Others were following the citizen assembly approach to engage the public and to get buy-in, which Ireland had successful deployed, “and there is more of a political consensus now than anytime I can remember – not just at home but in the EU”.

He agreed the deal was of similar significance to the establishment of the union around coal and steel. “And now there is a whole new growth strategy, which is about giving back, which is about a more caring economy, rather than a taking economy.”

Carbon border

Putting in place what in effect was a carbon border, whereby those trading with the EU would have to match Europe’s carbon standards, would have big implications for the UK in light of Brexit, he said. Ireland could have a central role is ensuring that was achieved in any new trade deal.

The GND has a just transition as its centre point, he added, “not leaving anybody behind; not being led by corporate interests. I have to take that in good faith. It gives me hope.”

On the targets, he said what was most important was action in the next five and 10 years, because it not only reduces the cost, it curbs cumulative emissions in the atmosphere. That said, the Government’s climate action plan was not ambitious enough and its current 2 per cent a year cut in Irish emissions was not in tune with what was happening in the rest of the world.

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said the deal was the kind of collective project needed for the EU politically, especially in "embracing citizens in a visionary way". Its policy instruments would help generate more momentum for states to deliver and help mobilise capital.

Ireland was committing to the higher ambition at the heart of the deal. While it has yet to commit to the 50 to 55 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, that was a matter for the Government.

He said they were seeing detail for the first time, which the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was considering, and it would be coming before the European Council meeting on Thursday.

Irish ambition

The level of Irish ambition, he insisted, was in line with what was called for by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) in its most recent reports.

However ambition had to be matched by the nuts and bolts of designing the shift to a decarbonised Ireland, backed by mobilising capital and capacity to generate renewable energy on the ground, Mr Bruton said. In addition, the help of civil society would be needed.

He agreed with the IPCC view, that critical to the evolution of solutions from research was “signposting of the direction of travel”. That was why the GND was investing hugely in research and development capacity to ensure new technologies emerged.

Described as a "growth strategy", the GND predominantly focuses on the current climate crises but fails to be a game changer to tackle the dire situation for biodiversity and ecosystems, when both issues need to be addressed together, said Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland.

“Despite several important and overwhelming major research papers which have been issued in the last few months globally confirming the biodiversity crises – with one million species threatened to go extinct – the EU green deal leaves much to be desired on the biodiversity front,” she added.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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