President hosts statistical society seminar on same day as Armagh event

Michael D Higgins declined to attend ceremony to mark 100 years since partition over concerns it was politicised

President Michael D Higgins hosted a seminar in Áras an Uachtaráin to honour the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Statistical and Social Inquiry Society.  Photograph:Tony Maxwell

President Michael D Higgins hosted a seminar in Áras an Uachtaráin to honour the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Statistical and Social Inquiry Society. Photograph:Tony Maxwell

 

President Michael D Higgins hosted a seminar in Áras an Uachtaráin to honour the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Statistical and Social Inquiry Society on the same day as a religious ceremony in Armagh to mark 100 years since the partition of the island.

President Higgins declined to attend Thursday’s event in St Patrick’s Cathedral over his concerns that the title and its reference to partition in 1921 meant the event was politicised.

Instead, the President responded to the keynote address given to the Society’s President Danny McCoy - who is chief executive of IBEC - on sustainable development at an important milestone for the society, which was founded in 1847.

The chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council Marie Donnelly also delivered a response.

The title of Mr McCoy’s speech, “Sustainable Development: ‘Still’ The Opportunity for Irish Economic Policymakers”, almost exactly mirrored an address he gave almost 30 years ago when delivering the Barrington address. The only addition to the title was the inclusion of the word ‘Still’.

In his address, he revisited his speech from 30 years ago and explored what was meant by sustainability in the early 1990s, and how policy makers had responded to it. Mr McCoy, who was then with the Economic and Social Research Institute, said he knew little about sustainability initially but was encouraged by Professor John Fitzgerald to “delve into the deep end of the environmental agenda, of which I knew: precisely nothing.

“My familiarity with the scientific periodic table was stretched as I had to quickly learn what sulphur, carbon and ozone were about and identify their symbols too.

As the Irish government in 1990 held the then European Community rotating presidency, with the lofty ambition of it being declared a “green presidency”, there was plenty of interest in the work.

“(We) worked on topics like acid rain, nitrate pollutants and carbon pricing. Our joint work on energy sustainability and potential double dividends from carbon taxes within a macroeconomic model felt like being at a knowledge frontier, particularly as the UN Earth Summit in 1992 brought forward many research requests which could best be summarised as “what’s all this environmental stuff about?”. Perhaps, some things remain constant.”

Mr McCoy told the audience that the Irish economy and society were at markedly different states of development back then relative to other nations. He said that the remarkable economic growth that happened after that but “sustainable development failed to advance in lockstep”.

He said climate change presented “formidable difficulties” for policymakers in the 1990s and still do now. He said there was uncertainty in respect to how effective specific response options would be in actually averting potential climate change.

Looking at the situation now Mr McCoy told the audience that “more people live on Earth and they do so in better economic conditions and in more peaceful, stable political environments than at probably any point in history”.

He said the threat from global warming remained contested in some quarters but nothing like the scepticism that which existed in the early 1990s.

“The scientific and statistical evidence amassed in the last thirty years is far from incontrovertible but appears compelling. The IPCC results appear credible from empirical evidence and the one experience I have personally come to appreciate is that truth is the not the most important characteristic in environmental politics: credibility is…

“Credibility in the global warming hypothesis has grown dramatically in the last thirty years..

He criticised the arguments that mitigation and not adaptation was always and everywhere the only outcome and that offsets in other jurisdictions were somehow morally repugnant.

He said he remained optimistic that the sustainable development challenge can be met, perhaps not in the initial short-term timescale the IPCC recommends, but by human ingenuity and solidarity every anthropogenic problem can be tackled. Every epoch through time teaches us that with sufficient statistical and social inquiry most challenges can be overcome.”