Public needs to be persuaded of benefits of addressing climate change, conference told

Message can be perceived as ‘scary and negative’ despite many positive aspects

The Irish public must be brought on a journey that helps them recognise the benefits of addressing the climate crisis rather than being overcome by its "scary and negative" bits, according to environmental scientist Dr Tara Shine.

“Transforming our society to reduce emissions will reap benefits in terms of health, wellbeing, jobs, lower energy bills, and a more connected and equitable society. It is an opportunity to be seized and not a hardship to be endured,” she said.

Addressing the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) public sector energy conference, Dr Shine said progress was being made in Ireland in facing up to the crisis but there was a need to spell out a vision of what a good outcome looks like, rather than focussing on the hardship or burden of cutting emissions.

This would make it easier to get action, she believed, noting it was a language issue also as most people did not understand terms like decarbonisation, resilience and abatement.


“They are not seen as an opportunity or invitation to change,” said Dr Shine, co-founder of Change by Degrees, a social enterprise advising people on living and working more sustainably.

“Yes, it will be very challenging but for a whole lot of positive reasons,” she added. “Change starts from within, it is personal. When we are clear on why living more sustainably is important to us as individuals, we are better placed to use our influence to engage and inspire others.”

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said the public sector must be at the forefront of a green recovery and reduce its emissions by at least 50 per cent over the next decade “if we can expect wider society to achieve the same reductions”.

He confirmed the revised National Development Plan would, for the first time, map out expected climate and environmental impacts from future capital investment.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said the public sector had shown remarkable capacity and commitment in tackling Covid-19 but "now needs to show the same leadership when it comes to climate action".

The Climate Bill and 2021 Climate Action Plan would set out “ambitious targets and a clear path for delivery for the rest of the decade that we can all get behind”, he added.

The sector has made significant progress in improving its energy efficiency, reducing costs, and increasing its contribution to national and EU energy and climate targets, Mr Ryan said. “But we need to do more, and show good example, including speeding up practical and visible measures such as EV (electric vehicle) procurement and retrofitting more of our public buildings.

“I look forward to many more innovative actions as we seize the opportunity to create a greener, more sustainable future.”

SEAI chief executive William Walsh said the transformation required would reach every aspect of society over the coming decade, "including our critical public services" and break the status quo.

The public sector had committed to reducing emissions by 50 per cent, increasing energy efficiency by 50 per cent and ensuring public buildings achieve a BER rating of B by 2030, he confirmed.

The public sector can show what can be achieved to other sectors, create better buildings, transport systems, and reduce energy costs and related emissions,” Mr Walsh said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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