Lauren Boland/The Journal

Ireland to develop carbon capture but 'can't use that as cover' for fossil fuels - Climate Minister

Minister Eamon Ryan has said Ireland will need to look into carbon capture and storage — a controversial technology.

IRELAND IS LIKELY to look at developing carbon capture and storage technologies but cannot use that as a “cover” for fossil fuels, the Minister for Climate has said. 

Minister Eamon Ryan is at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, where countries are negotiating complicated agreements about efforts to fight climate change.

A major focus of negotiations is producing a document, known as a decision text, that will call on countries to level up climate action. It comes on the back of an assessment known as the Global Stocktake which is indicating that the world is way off track to limit temperature rise to manageable levels.

The negotiations often come down at the 11th hour to heated debates over precise phrases, like whether a call to reduce fossil fuels covers all fossil fuels or just ‘unabated’ ones — unabated being a somewhat vague term with competing definitions, but generally understood to refer to fossil fuel burning that is not ‘compensated’ for in some other way.

Carbon capture and storage can potentially capture emissions that have been created in industrial processes and stop them from clogging up the atmosphere — but the technology is expensive, underdeveloped, and widely criticised by climate justice campaigners, who fear the prospect of having the technology in the future will be used as an excuse to avoid making essential emissions cuts now.

Speaking to reporters today, Minister Ryan said that Ireland is ultimately “going to do carbon capture and storage” but that “the real key question is you can’t use that as a cover for unsustainable fossil fuel expansion”.

The minister said Ireland’s next Climate Action Plan, which is expected to be published before the end of the year, will need to include additional measures around “cement plants and carbon capture”. 

“We already know we have enough oil and gas discovered already to burn the planet. The idea that we’re going to have a massive expansion of fossil fuels, of new oil fields, new gas discoveries, is not aligned with the 1.5 degree limit,” he said.

“Some people have a very valid concern that abatement could be used as a get out of jail card for the fossil fuel industry. That’s not on. One of the things we need here is we need a scientific assessment of how much exactly would we need abatement for the likes of the steel and cement sector.”

His comments followed remarks by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday, who told reporters that Ireland will be pushing for an agreement that targets fossil fuels but that he would be content with countries using abatement measures like carbon capture to decrease their emissions.

The Taoiseach’s speech at the conference earlier in the day said that “this COP must also set us on a clear path to a safe and planned reduction in the use of fossil fuels”. 

Friends of the Earth chief Oisín Coghlan yesterday criticised the Taoiseach’s position, saying his language was “ambigious, if not evasive”.

“We need the government to clarify that Ireland is committed to phasing our fossil fuels entirely, not just reducing them,” Coghlan said. 

The negotiations at COP28 to make those important decisions about where countries will go from here to try to get back on track are ongoing, though still in early stages.

Minister Ryan told Irish reporters at the conference this afternoon: “I just came out of a meeting where Jennifer Morgan [a negotiator for Germany], who is a wily negotiator, said it should be like a ping pong game. It should be from the officials over to the politicians, tap back to the officials, tap back to the politicians.”

“I got sight of the the first draft of the text of the Global Stocktake. It’s good, it reads well, but it’s quite general and it needs a lot more detail and more specifics,” he said.

“As part of that ping pong game, I think that the politicians need to be putting in higher ambition and more specific targets and goals and ways in which we respond to the Global Stocktake, particularly on finance and mitigation.”

The scale of recent changes to the climate is “unprecedented” over hundreds and thousands of years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, which brings together hundreds of scientists to assess climate research, has said that if global average temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees – a threshold it is widely expected will be surpassed – the world “faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards” in the next 20 years.

Exceeding a 1.5 degree rise, even temporarily, would lead to “additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible”. 

Outside of negotiations, the theme of conference today is health, with numerous organisations and countries holding talks around the links between climate change and negative effects on human health.

The International Society of Doctors for the Environment held a short protest outside meeting rooms, chanting that “the climate crisis is a health crisis” and demanding “fossil fuel phaseout now”.

Yesterday, 120 countries signed up to a Climate and Health Declaration put forward by the UAE, which urges governments to protect communities from climate impacts like extreme heat stress and the spread of infectious diseases, and to prepare health systems to deal with them.

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