Paris climate talks: Irish have sent out mixed messages

Environmentalists accused Government of seeking free pass for farming sector

Irish involvement with the climate change talks in Paris did not get off to a very auspicious start 10 days ago when Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a special case for Irish agriculture.

His unprompted defence of Ireland’s biggest emitting sector caused a flurry of consternation at home.

Environmentalists accused the Government of seeking a free pass for agriculture, and the Opposition accused him of hypocrisy, saying one thing to a world audience and something different to a domestic audience.

Others wondered why he brought it up at all given that Irish agriculture emissions do not even enter the equation at COP21. Ireland is a part of the EU block and is rowing in fully with it key pledge of a 40 per cent cut in emissions by 2030.



It will be the spring before individual states will begin bargaining as to how much they will contribute to that 40 per cent.

In general, Ireland’s position tallies with that of the larger union on all the big issues (ambition, transparency, finance), and as such would be regarded as comparatively progressive.

Ireland has been represented at the talks by a small number of officials from the Department of the Environment with expertise on climate.

They are led by assistant secretary David Walsh, and three senior officials who form part of the EU negotiation team, John O'Neill, Petra Woods and George Hussey.

There is also a senior official from the Department of Agriculture and an experienced environmental lawyer from the Attorney-General’s office at the summit.

High-level talks

On Sunday Minister for the Environment

Alan Kelly

arrived for the second week of the talks, the high-level talks involving ministers from 196 counties.

He was initially involved with his counterpart ministers from Austria and Romania in working on actions that needed to be taken before 2020.

He was later involved in talks on emissions trading between the EU and Brazil, which was due to be put to plenary.

Besides the Government, there are representatives of many Irish environmental and aid agencies, including Concern, Trócaire, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace. All have been critical of a lack of ambition, and have said the EU should have done more.

There are a number of other politicians who have attended or are attending COP21.

Among them are Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Senator Fiach MacConghail, Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly and Labour's chair of the environment committee Michael McCarthy, along with employers' body Ibec.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times