Technology alone will not solve the climate problem, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has warned. "Techno-optimism" – the belief that human ingenuity will drive the necessary change – is important, he said, but it will not be enough on its own.
It will have to be combined with “the hard grind” of policy, including emissions-reducing policy, Mr Donohoe told the Dublin Climate Dialogues conference.
He said the Government is committed to achieving 7 per cent emissions reductions on average per year from 2021 to 2030 and to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
“A new Climate Action Plan is being developed across all sectors of Government in order to give substance to this step up in ambition,” Mr Donohoe said.
The plan is due to be launched with the renewed National Development Plan this summer. It will impose potentially swingeing carbon budgets on sectors such as transport and agriculture, which are responsible for a significant level of emissions here.
The transport sector, for example, emits about 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. So, if that sector is to reach its target it means it has to reduce by 50 per cent between now and 2030.
Asked if he thought higher carbon taxes should be at the centre of global efforts to shift away from fossil fuels - and part of any agreement at the upcoming COP26 climate talks in Glasgow - Mr Donohoe sounded a more cautionary note.
While carbon pricing can play a greater role, he said placing higher and higher taxes on fuels was extremely challenging.
“You have to see the revenue from carbon pricing completely different to the revenue that you see from other forms of tax - that it is, in effect, tax you’re willing to give back, in its entirety, to our society to deal with all of the behaviour around climate change,” he said.
Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan told the conference that Ireland was transitioning from being a climate laggard to being a climate leader.
The Government’s new Climate Bill sets a target of halving the State’s emissions over the next decade. “I don’t think that’s been done before,” he said.
Mr Donohoe increased the State’s carbon tax from €26 to €33.50 per tonne in the last budget - the plan is to increase this on a sliding scale up to €100 per tonne by 2030.
In his address to the conference, Mr Donohoe said the upheaveals of the pandemic has provided “ a renewed impetus to tackling climate change.”
“The pandemic has progressed our understanding of the delicate relationship between the natural environment and the resilience of our societies,” he said.
“Accelerating the transition to a low-carbon green, more sustainable, economy will become one of the key planks to our post-Covid recovery as we start re-opening life as the public health crisis abates in line with increased vaccine roll-out,” he said.
The EU recently increased its emissions reduction target from 40 per cent to 55 per cent by 2030 in order to accelerate the transition to net zero by 2050.
Mr Donohoe said progress on EU-level frameworks as the EU Taxonomy for sustainable activities, the Disclosures regulation and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive will reinforce the EU’s drive, Mr Donohoe said.
The Taxonomy Regulation establishes a harmonised classification system for environmentally sustainable economic activities, “and will have a significant role in supporting the mobilisation of capital towards sustainable investments,” he said.
“Through providing common definitions to companies, investors and policymakers on what constitutes an environmentally sustainable economic activity, it creates security for investors and protects private investors from greenwashing,” Mr Donohoe said.