Ireland must share the pain of Paris climate change agreement; no excuses

Climate accord signed at United Nations by representatives of more than 160 countries

 

Another milestone in the international response to global warming was marked in New York yesterday when representatives of countries from all over the world gathered at the United Nations headquarters to sign the landmark accord on climate change, agreed at the Paris summit last December. Although many heads of state or government, including US President Barack Obama, were not present for the ceremony, it is now almost certain that the deal will come into force next year as soon as it achieves the UN’s “55/55” formula – the support of 55 countries covering more than 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Paris Agreement, more than 190 nations agreed to reduce these emissions so low that, in the second half of this century, the concentrations of carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere can be safely absorbed by natural systems such as forests. The task we all face is monumental, because reaching this goal by 2050 will require a “serious and significant effort to de-carbonise the global economy”, as Christiana Figueres, outgoing executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said on her way to New York. Indeed, to show that they “walk the talk”, the travel emissions from all of the delegations will be tallied and offset by carbon credits.

With new temperature records being set almost month by month, the Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, or even below that critical threshold for humanity. The United States, China, India, Canada, Mexico and South Africa are expected to formally approve the agreement later this year, but the EU may take longer as an equitable share-out of the effort to reduce overall emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 – as it pledged in Paris – remains to be negotiated between member states, including Ireland. And this additional burden falls on top of a widely-anticipated failure to meet our own EU target for 2020.

Playing our part in tackling climate change is not high on the agenda of talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and others about forming a government. But it should be. The outgoing Coalition had its Action Plan for Jobs, which was reviewed annually and clearly produced results. A similarly single-minded focus on the climate is now required, with the aim of cutting emissions from agriculture, buildings and transport. Instead, however, the outgoing government has been putting all of its effort into making a “special case” for Ireland in Brussels, in the hope of ensuring that we will have a less onerous EU target to meet in 2030. This is not only shameless but also quite possibly futile as other member states are likely to conclude that, much as we might like to think otherwise, there is nothing “exceptional” about Ireland after all.

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