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Irish government to push for fossil fuel companies to 'pay their way' at UN climate conference

The Irish delegation at COP28 will call for phasing out fossil fuels, building renewable energy sources, and helping vulnerable countries.

THE IRISH DELEGATION at COP28 is set to push for fossil fuel companies to ‘pay their way’ as countries look to strike deals to ramp up climate action and avoid catastrophic temperature rise.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and three other Government ministers are set to travel to the COP28 climate conference in Dubai over the next two weeks, where countries will assess the level of progress — or lack thereof — made on important targets for preventing temperature rise that were agreed eight years ago.

This year’s COP, which begins tomorrow, comes against a backdrop of an overwhelming amount of evidence detailing the scale of the climate crisis. 

The COPs (Conferences of the Parties) are annual UN summits that bring countries together to make decisions about how to address the climate crisis, with this year’s taking place from 30 November to 12 December in the United Arab Emirates.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is due to co-host an event with the UAE during his time at the conference, the details of which have still to be released.

The UAE’s strong fossil fuel sector has been the subject of attention in the run-up to the COP, including that the country’s appointed president for the conference, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, is the UAE’s special envoy for climate change but also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Journalists at the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) and the BBC have reported this week that briefing notes prepared by the UAE’s COP28 team for Al-Jaber ahead of meetings with foreign governments this year show plans to strike fossil fuel deals — despite pressure on countries from climate experts to significantly drive down fossil fuel use in order to cut emissions.

A COP28 spokesperson told AFP that the documents the BBC cited were “inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings” and said it was “extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting”. 

Climate experts and campaigners are hoping — with plenty of uncertainty — that significant pledges will be made at this COP by countries on cutting down fossil fuel use.

Previous COPs have seen tensions over the distinction between calling on countries to phase down fossil fuels or to phase them out

In a statement ahead of the conference, Minister Ryan said the fossil fuel sector and companies should pay their fair share into climate financing.

Fossil fuel companies are going to have to pay their way.

“They can’t just keep going business as usual, expanding fossil fuel production and making the maximum profits they can out of the remaining years they feel they might have,” he said.

Other areas the minister will seek to raise in discussions at this COP will include doubling renewable energy levels by 2030, ensuring equal access to renewable energy, promoting the ‘polluter pays’ principle, phasing out fossil fuels, and calling for an end to methane emissions released from fossil fuels. 

Yesterday, a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action has heard from Oxfam, Trócaire, Christian Aid, ActionAid, and Friends of the Earth ahead of the conference, all of which expressed the urgent need for governments to ramp up emissions reductions and help vulnerable countries already acutely hit by climate change.

Friends of the Earth’s Head of Policy Jerry Mac Evilly’s opening statement emphasised that the Irish government should “support clear and progressive fossil fuel phase out commitments”.

Mac Evilly said that “technological innovation and a renewable revolution is not enough – hard limits on fossil fuels are essential”, adding that “any new fossil fuel extraction and long- term infrastructure is not only outdated but recklessly dangerous”.

“Yet fossil fuels remain the elephant in the room in terms of UN climate negotiations,” he said.

“COP28 is an opportunity to secure transformational commitments on clear fossil fuel phase out language, energy system transformation and pre-2030 ambition to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive.”

irelands-energy-minister-eamon-ryan-speaks-to-the-media-at-the-cop27-u-n-climate-summit-friday-nov-18-2022-in-sharm-el-sheikh-egypt-ap-photoahmed-hatem Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan at COP27 in Egypt in 2022 Alamy Alamy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will set out Ireland’s climate priorities in a speech during the two-day World Climate Action Summit at the start of the conference.

He will be followed by Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for Financial Services Jennifer Carroll MacNeill.  

The Irish delegation includes officials across a range of Government departments. Also travelling from Ireland will be a number of academics, civil society groups, charities and campaigners.

As it pushes for change on the global stage, though, Ireland still has a long way to go on climate action domestically.

Both the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Environmental Protection Agency have warned the government that, unless it takes significant action, Ireland is likely in the coming years to blow through carbon budgets that are supposed to set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that the country emits.

‘Where are we heading?’

The Journal understands that one of the focuses of the Irish delegation’s engagements at the conference will be loss and damage.

Loss and damage refers to the way that countries, particularly those that are most vulnerable, are impacted by the climate crisis. The term is also used as shorthand to refer to measures that can be taken to provide support to those countries.

A tentative framework for a dedicated fund to address loss and damage has been prepared and it’s hoped that negotiators will sign off on the deal so that countries can start to make pledges to the fund.

Ireland shared a seat with Germany on the committee that developed the text on the fund and as such will hope to see the committee’s recommendations adopted at the conference.

The Journal understands that the Irish government anticipates pledging to the fund once it is signed off on.

Other focuses of the Irish delegation at COP28 will include climate mitigation (measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (ways of protecting people and place from the affects of climate change already happening).

Food systems, the impacts of the climate crisis on global security, and result of the Global Stocktake will also feature in the Irish itinerary.

At COP21 in 2015, countries signed up to the Paris Agreement which stipulated the world would try to limit global warming to no more than two degrees (compared to pre-industrial average temperatures) and strive for 1.5.

The first Global Stocktake is looking at where the world stands now on its climate goals.

Early findings indicate there is a massive shortfall between countries’ plans and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that need to be cut.

The Irish delegation wants to see a “comprehensive” COP28 decision text that reflects the progress that has been made to date on the Paris Agreement but raises the ambition for the future in line with the temperature target.

It believes the outcome of the stocktake should call on all countries to take decisive action and encourage best practice in climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

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).

It has found 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”. 

The World Meteorological Organisation’s annual State of the Global Climate Report published in 2023 similarly found that 2015-2022 were the eight warmest years on record, even despite the cooling impact of a La Niña event for the most recent three years.

In particular, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which includes dozens of countries across parts of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis despite contributing the least to emissions.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Climate Committee, Oxfam’s Africa Director Fati N’zi-Hassane described the “frequent and intense climatic shocks” that have hit countries in Africa.

“What we know for certain is that these droughts and floods would not have been so intense and frequent in a world without climate change,” she said.

“This is what the reality of life in East Africa looks like today. This is what global warming looks like, as we speak, for my people in Africa.

What will it look like when we reach the plus two degrees Celsius mark? Or the 3.2 degrees one? Where are we heading?

“We need urgent action now and we need it from everyone.

“The regions most affected by climate change and the communities most impacted by climate disasters are also the smallest contributors to global warming. Climate mitigation cannot and will not be understood and properly addressed without climate justice lens.”

The Taoiseach will be one of around 160 world leaders expected to attend the opening days of the conference to deliver national statements, during which time he will have bilateral meetings with several other leaders.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin is expected to have a number of meetings with representatives from the LDCs and SIDS, as well as working on strategies around food systems and adaptation.

Minister of State Jennifer Carroll MacNeill’s itinerary includes a high-level roundtable of finance ministers on scaling up climate finance and a ‘ministerial dialogue’ on a gender-just transition.

Several Irish charities and NGOs will also be sending representatives to the COP to cast a watchful eye on negotiations and push for impactful decisions.

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