The Irish Times view: Rhetoric must give way to action in push for COP21 deal on climate change

If Ireland seeks exemption for agriculture, more meaningful commitments will be necessary on other fronts

This week's historically unprecedented gathering of 147 heads of state or government for the COP21 climate change conference in Paris underlines the overwhelming importance now being attached to the gravest environmental threat facing humanity and the Earth itself.

But their often stirring rhetoric from the podium has not been reflected in closed-door sessions where negotiations are taking place with a view to concluding a meaningful, credible and universal agreement by the end of next week to show the world its leaders are committed to curbing global warming before we reach a dangerous tipping point.

The traditional divisions between developed countries that got where they are today on the back of burning fossil fuels and their poorer counterparts, which have yet to achieve a similar level of prosperity, are all too apparent at the heavily-guarded conference venue in Le Bourget.

The fact that so much of the negotiating text – on issues such as the long-term goal, the pace and scale of cutting emissions, and finance to enable developing countries reduce their own emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change – remains in square brackets clearly indicates that ministers representing 195 nations face long hours in back rooms if they are to strike a deal.


Yet there is strong momentum behind the process, generated by cities, regions, companies and universities divesting potentially up to $3 trillion from climate-polluting fossil fuels in Favor of promoting renewable energy worldwide.

A new focus on more sustainable forms of transport, energy-efficient buildings and economy-wide measures to reduce the carbon footprint of countries has also emerged – though there are still disputes over whether wholesale “decarbonisation” by 2050 or later should be an explicit objective of the Paris accord. One way or another, it is evident that the drive to achieve a low-carbon future is now happening and may become unstoppable.

Where does Ireland stand in all of this? On shifting sand, it would appear. In his speech, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "I hope that we are serious about putting in place a legally binding agreement on climate change that will underpin our actions on the goals already agreed and enhance our ability to reach them. This requires action by everybody – big and small."

The problem is his real agenda is to seek an exemption for Irish agriculture in the context of EU targets to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

If that is the case we must make meaningful commitments on other fronts such on eliminating peat and coal burning power plants and on fossil fuel extraction including fracking – for starters.

As Oisín Coughlan of Friends of the Earth noted, Mr Kenny “had one story for the world leaders gathered here in Paris and a completely different story for Paddy back home”. Such double-speak is utterly indefensible.