Taoiseach Enda Kenny has blamed a “lost decade” of recession and “unrealistic” targets set by the EU for Ireland’s difficulties in grappling with greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector.
Attending the COP21 global summit on climate change in Paris, the Taoiseach singled out Irish agriculture as an exception, and said the State would need "time and space" to deal with meeting stringent EU targets of a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
Mr Kenny was one of more than 150 world leaders at the summit on Monday, and in his formal address he said Ireland was "determined to play its part" in reaching an historic agreement before the conference closes on Friday week.
The most anticipated speech of the day was that delivered by US president Barack Obama, who described the conference as a potential “turning point” to curb global warming.
Noting that the next generation was watching, he said: “I came here personally to say the United States not only recognises the problem but is committed to do something about it.”
The UN summit involving 195 parties will seek pledges that, it is hoped, will collectively result in global temperature not rising more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
However, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who launched an ambitious alliance that will work towards an increase in solar power, warned that the developed world would have to recognise that, for countries such as India, climate change was not of its making.
Another key player, Chinese president Xi Jinping, confirmed his country’s commitment that its emissions would peak in 2030 and then start to fall.
In a well-received speech, the host leader, French president Francois Hollande, referred back to the recent terrorist atrocity in Paris that had resulted in the loss of more than 130 lives.
“I can’t separate the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming,” he told delegates.
In his address to the conference, Mr Kenny said Ireland supported the aim of creating a legally binding agreement on climate change.
“Ireland’s national long-term vision is presented in climate legislation, which sets out our intention to substantially cut CO2 emissions by 2050, while developing an approach towards carbon neutrality in the land sector that does not compromise our capacity for food production,” he said.
Speaking to reporters earlier, the Taoiseach blamed Ireland’s difficulties in meeting targets in agriculture on a “lost decade” which he said was created by recession caused by the previous government. That had resulted in few resources being available to invest in climate change research and infrastructure.
He also said the targets set by the EU Commission for 2020, which called for a 20 per cent reduction of emissions compared with 2005 levels, were “unrealistic” and “unreachable”.
Mr Kenny denied the State was seeking “wiggle room” on the vital sector of agriculture. Rather, he said that when the EU Commission set the 2020 target it had overestimated what agriculture could achieve in terms of curbing emissions.
“We do not want to see a situation where we are limited in what we can produce with the abolition of quotas, to find that food produced in countries with inferior standards and higher emission levels.”
Mr Kenny said he had spoken to several other European leaders at the summit about the agriculture challenge, including the prime minster of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
The UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, former president Mary Robinson, refused to be drawn on Ireland’s policy stance, saying she did not like to talk specifically on a political matter.
“I always want every country including Ireland to be more ambitious,” she said. “There is room for improvement and I do hope this conference will help.”