Bar at Cop28 is so low Ireland’s climate story is seen as enviable

Ireland has the resources and policy foundations to set a shining example to others of national climate action

Holding Cop28 in the United Arab Emirates is like hosting a Narcotics Anonymous meeting at a drug dealer’s house. Fossil fuel is the narcotic to which all countries present at the UN summit are addicted and Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, president of this year’s negotiations, is a top international dealer. The likelihood of taking a step toward breaking our fossil fuel addiction at a meeting in Dubai is tiny. So why attend? The value of a UN climate conference is not just in reaching agreements between nations. A relatively small number of people work tirelessly drafting and redrafting text until 197 countries unanimously agree on the finished product. Meanwhile, the rest of us meet international colleagues, exchange ideas around best practices, discuss how to overcome challenges and understand the latest science. We do this in an effort to solve the climate crisis, irrespective of what is agreed among governments behind closed doors.

For Ireland, being part of these negotiations is an opportunity to bring our perspective on climate action to the attention of the rest of the world. Ironically, the bar is so low, that (compared to most non-EU countries), Ireland’s climate story is enviable. I was astounded at a USAid event when the moderator asked our Tánaiste, “What’s Ireland’s secret sauce?”

”Secret sauce?!” I wondered, as I reflected on our failure to achieve carbon budgets, reduce greenhouse emissions, prevent water pollution or halt the destruction of nature. However, a few days of networking my way through Cop28 has shown me that Ireland does indeed have it better than many other countries when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. In addition to our wealth and relatively small, educated population, our geography as an island state with clearly defined borders makes the transition to a low-carbon economy more straight-forward than most. A relative lack of heavy industry and the fact that we do not sell or export fossil fuels also lightens our load when it comes to climate action.

Perhaps the strangest of all compliments was the UAE’s accolades for Ireland’s food security: Ireland is one of the highest-ranked countries globally when it comes to the affordability and availability of food

Ireland is privileged compared to countries like Australia, financially dependent on the export of coal, or our Cop28 host, the United Arab Emirates, whose obscene wealth comes from selling oil. While we still rely on fossil fuel imports, the steps to ending that addiction are not as steep. We have so many incentives to do our share to address the global climate crisis – but also to stop spending €1 million every hour purchasing fossil fuels, while creating tens of thousands more Irish jobs producing our own renewable energy. For other countries, phasing out fossil fuel means less income and job losses, but for Ireland this commitment presents nothing but opportunities.


Throughout my time at Cop28, I heard many compliments from other countries about the Irish approach to climate action. The extent of our overseas aid supporting small island developing states to adapt to climate change and become more self-sufficient in food production was repeatedly applauded. The Tánaiste astutely pointed out that Ireland’s own experience in the Famine motivated us to prevent hunger elsewhere. Our recent developments in reducing air pollution, from the smoky fuels ban to being the first country in the world to put World Health Organisation standards into legislation, were noted. Other countries wanted our Ministers’ expertise in how Ireland navigated political division implementing these progressive environmental policies. Ireland’s end to the burning of peat for electricity generation provided evidence to others that a just transition is possible. Our amended climate legislation, with its legally binding carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, is the envy of many – as is our ban on fracking and our relatively strong Environmental Protection Agency.

Perhaps the strangest of all compliments was the UAE’s accolades for Ireland’s food security: Ireland is one of the highest-ranked countries globally when it comes to the affordability and availability of food. On those specific metrics, we are blessed compared to many, though we still have a long way to go before our food system is sustainable and resilient to climate change. With more than 80 countries committed to the phasing-out of fossil fuels, the outcome of this Cop will have little bearing on the global march toward transition. Work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will continue regardless. The best thing Ireland can do as part of that global effort is to demonstrate to others that climate change can be solved. We have all the resources and policy foundations to be an example of national climate action to the rest of world, and that is our “secret sauce”.

Dr Cara Augustenborg is assistant professor in environmental policy at UCD and a member of Ireland’s Climate Change Advisory Council