Ireland to be among first countries to phase out oil and gas exploration

Republic’s decision to cease fossil fuel exploration revealed by Taoiseach at UN climate summit

Ireland's decision to end fossil fuel exploration which was announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the UN climate summit means the Republic is among the first countries in the world to get out of oil and gas production.

The move is on foot of scientific advice about its climate impact. But the search for, and extraction of, gas will be permitted for some time as the country shifts to a carbon-free economy.

Mr Varadkar said the Government agreed with advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council that exploration for oil should end "as it is incompatible with a low carbon future", he told the summit on Monday.

Some 60 global leaders, including Mr Varadkar, outlined hundreds of climate actions with a view to honouring previous commitments made under the Paris Agreement and to scaling climate ambition, as requested by UN Secretary General António Guterres.


The most remarkable input, however, was from young climate activist Greta Thunberg. She scolded leaders for robbing young people of a future by focusing on “money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth”.

The implications of Mr Varadkar's exploration announcement was confirmed last night by a spokeswoman for the Taoiseach. Existing licences and options for oil and gas will remain valid but Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton will bring a memo to Government within a month to set out how the change will be implemented.

“This will relate to future applications,” she said.

No new licensing round for the Atlantic “closed” area – 80 per cent of our waters – will be brought forward by the Government. This is the area where most of the exploration is now focused.

“Licence applications will still be accepted for [the] Celtic and Irish Sea on an ongoing basis,” she added.

Some in the offshore sector queried the distinction being made between fossil fuel types because when carrying out exploration gas and oil are usually found together, with the gas coming up first.

The Irish Offshore Operators’ Association said it will be seeking clarity on the revised arrangements. It said it remained committed to Ireland’s efforts to transition to renewable energy, “however energy security for Ireland is an important part of that process”.

‘Important signal’

Environmental and development organisations including the Green Party welcomed the announcement but warned that reliance on gas could not be justified and contradicted what the best climate science is saying.

Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the Taoiseach had sent “an important signal to investors that Ireland accepts the majority of fossil fuels have to stay in the ground if we are to contain climate change. However, Ireland is still running the risk of carbon lock-in by not phasing out gas exploration now also.”

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Mr Varadkar is to meet British prime minister Boris Johnson on the fringes of the UN General Assembly which opens on Tuesday. Speaking at a briefing, he warned that Ireland “cannot accept some kind of halfway house” on Brexit.

“The position we’ve had all along is that we’re willing to examine alternative arrangements that achieve the same objectives as the backstop, objectives we’ve agreed to,” he said. However, he said, so far the proposals had fallen “very far short of that”.