Low-carbon economy is an opportunity

 

A chara, – Your editorial “Time to share the pain – no excuses” (April 23rd), dedicated to the signing of the UN climate change accord, eloquently described how the 175 countries that have pledged to reduce emissions must now “walk the talk” and, in doing so, avoid any special exemptions being placed on Ireland in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Rather than being framed as a burden, Ireland’s move to a low-carbon economy can more appropriately be framed as an opportunity for Irish enterprise to accelerate the development of new products, technologies and services that can stimulate competitiveness and allow industry to enter new markets.

Ireland has an ICT skills base, significant natural resources, and a vibrant entrepreneurial environment, and we have the benefit of an all-island market to test technologies on our grid.

The question remains how to best engineer a transition to a low-carbon economy. Economists will argue for having an appropriate carbon tax, but pricing itself has historically rarely, if ever, driven large-scale energy transition. Europe’s, and Ireland’s, industrial base needs to be phased out and replaced with new technologies and practices that require a suite of policies, regulatory reforms and investments to spark this shift.

A proactive government stimulating the development and diffusion of such clean technologies is required.

Yet, while Europe leads the world in variable renewable energy, investment has stalled, providing a significant gap between the promises made at the COP21 global climate summit in Paris and the action that needs to implemented. Clean energy investment in Asia is thriving to the point where developing countries are out-investing developed countries in terms of clean energy technologies. Europe has an excellent research base but is not transferring its research into products.

As Ireland moves to domestic ratification of the climate treaty, it must seize the opportunities from full implementation. This requires an acknowledgement that the challenges are interdisciplinary, and require collaboration across academia and with industry. Applied research remains critical to Ireland’s ability to meet its future commitments arising from COP21. Irish academic institutions are reorganising and cross-pollinating disciplines to meet this challenge, as highlighted by TCD’s planned engineering, energy and environmental institute.

The aim of reducing emissions from our agriculture, buildings and transport sectors presents overwhelmingly difficult challenges as we translate aspirations into action. While there are significant opportunities for Ireland, and Europe – including energy storage, low-carbon heating and cooling, energy efficiency, market integration, marine renewable, and distributed generation – further applied research into energy technologies can enable our sectors to become more sustainable.

We also need more examples of energy citizen engagement, such as CorkCiti Engage.

As US secretary of state John Kerry stated upon signing the COP 21 climate deal, “None of what we have to achieve is beyond our capacity technologically . . . The only question is whether it is beyond our collective resolve”. – Is mise,

Dr MATT KENNEDY,

International Energy

Research Centre,

Tyndall Institute, Cork.