Use Citizens’ Assembly model to discuss climate change, conference told

Delegation asks for clarity on Ireland’s position on emission reduction targets

The model of the Citizens Assembly should be adopted internationally so politicians and citizens can consider difficult issues on actions to counter climate change, according to Irish non-governmental organisations attending the UN climate talks in Bonn.

The NGOs and representatives of Irish civil society met Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten to press their case that Ireland feature the Citizens Assembly in the next round of COP talks in Poland next year.

Speaking on Thursday, climatologist Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University, welcomed Mr Naughten's indication at the Wednesday meeting that he was open to the idea.

To ensure credibility, however, Prof Sweeney said the Government needed implement much of the assembly’s recent recommendations on climate change.


The delegation also asked for clarity on Ireland's position on emission reduction targets; if it was supporting more progressive countries like Germany or aligned with less ambitious countries, mainly from Eastern Europe, who are seeking less demanding reductions for 2020 and 2030 - especially in the event of missing current CO2 reduction targets.

Prof Sweeney said the EU was weaker in enforcement than it has been and said there was a need to ratchet up commitments.

“We are of the opinion that we cannot afford to sit back for 10 years.”

He said they suggested Ireland follow France in ending licensing for oil and gas exploration, but the Minister stressed the need for energy security on an island economy in the first instance.

The Irish group also sought an undertaking that shared transport initiatives would be embraced more in Ireland to counter “cars sitting idle in our cities”. “Transport is one of the sectors which has rapidly growing emissions which are associated with major air pollution and health impacts in cities across the world,” said UCD climate researcher Sadhbh O’Neill.

New technologies offered solutions that should be adopted, she said.

As talks move to a conclusion on Friday, Prof Sweeney noted French president Emmanuel Macron had flagged the possibility of a Border tax in any future trade agreements.

These would be applied to countries that have ignored their carbon responsibilities or failed to build in realistic carbon costs.

“I think he was talking about the US [which has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord],” he said.

"He is talking about a tariff. This is political dynamite for the World Trade Organisation, " he added.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had suggested such a possibility 10 years ago, and it was shot down.

“It will be interesting to see if it is taken up by other countries including in Ireland,” Prof Sweeney said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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