Irish Times View on the Dublin Climate Dialogues: Seeing the bigger picture

Left unaddressed, stranded fossil fuel assets will become a colossal headache

In the latest report card on global progress in addressing the deadly combination of a climate crisis and a related biodiversity crisis, the science does not lie.

As US climate envoy John Kerry told Dublin Climate Dialogues this week, we are simply not doing enough to counter their worsening effects. Current delivery on emissions reduction, and on weaning off fossil fuels while scaling up renewable energy, will translate into a 3.7-degree increase this century – far off the critical Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. What is it about a planet close to the abyss that people do not get?

Dialogues chairman Pat Cox flagged the consequences of insufficient action: "The challenges faced today as a result of global warming pale into insignificance compared to what is likely to come if we do not get our act together."

The dialogues, an initiative by leading energy experts and academics based in Ireland, applied the best response to that looming catastrophe by channelling energies into what could be done to get to a better place urgently. This was with particular focus on the only mechanism to kickstart bolder global ambition – the COP26 climate negotiations hosted by the UK on behalf of the UN in November.

The outcome was the Dublin Declaration: a strong platform for progress. Its value was underlined by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney before it was passed over to the UK government after two days of deliberation.

Its precision is the polar opposite to the vague aspiration and voluntary aspect of many climate agreements of the past. Like the landmark International Energy Agency (IEA) report this week on a net-zero emissions energy system, it is unequivocal on the starting point: "there can be no new investment in oil, gas and coal – from now", as IEA director Fatih Birol put it at the dialogues.

The declaration suggests $130 trillion needs to be invested in the transition to a net-zero economy by 2050, but long-run economic benefits for the whole world will be more than $420 trillion by 2100 – amounting to “the largest economic opportunity of this century”. Fundamentally, most economies would be better off in the long-term by taking timely action as the harm from global overheating would be far greater.

Its assessment of where the world of finance needs to get to and on carbon pricing strategies has considerable merit, especially on factoring in climate risk in a transparent way and embracing “net-zero equity”. Left unaddressed, stranded fossil fuel assets will become a colossal headache. Arguably, banks are already deeply exposed and need to move from greenwashing to thinking about the systemic risk of the transition.

There is so much to do. The necessary momentum can be provided by politicians who see this bigger picture and listen less to vested interests.