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President says we can't 'continue with the mere placing of a green lens on economic policies' to save the planet

President Michael D Higgins gave a speech to the Engineers Ireland Conference this morning.

Image: Peter Byrne/PA Images

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said that the Irish State must “lead by example if it is to have any credibility, any realistic hope of bringing its citizens with it on the difficult journey to a decarbonised future”.

In a speech on climate to the Engineers Ireland Conference this morning, the president said that climate change is the “most pressing existential crisis facing us all as a global community” and urged the government to take a lead in addressing the crisis.

President Higgins advocated a new approach to economics in his speech today that would incorporate the “radicalism” of climate action. 

He said: “We cannot continue with the mere placing of a green lens on economic policies… policies that have failed manifestly and are continuing to cause damaging ecological impacts.”

He called for a new approach to economics, one that is based on a connection between ecology, economics and society.

Higgins also said this approach should combine “the radicalism that is in the consciousness of climate activism, with the consciousness of egalitarianism and the programmes of inclusion activists”.

It should be “framed around the three implicit goals of welfare states: redistribution, social consumption and social investment and characterised by gender equality, income redistribution, a reconfigured social consumption”.

 The State

Higgins emphasised the “huge and potentially very positive” role the State can play in all of these policy decisions, despite policies in recent decades having an adverse effect.

“The State has been so maligned through a constant and consistent attack from the Right, an undermining of its competence and legitimacy, and a disregard or ignorance of its success in wealth creation and improving the broader quality of life of citizens,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it has taken the tragedy of Covid-19 to demonstrate the State’s positive role in managing such crises, of how it can play a transformative role in our lives for the better. 

I see the State leading in climate action, setting an example on climate mitigation, resilience and adaptation. The Irish State must lead by example if it is to have any credibility, any realistic hope of bringing its citizens with it on the difficult journey to a decarbonised future.
Government departments and state agencies must be exemplars in climate mitigation given the whole-of-government approach needed to curb our carbon emissions, as well as in climate adaptation given the State’s pivotal role as owners of land and infrastructure which is likely to be impacted by climate change.

President Higgins added that the “longer we wait, the more we intensify and perpetutate the injustice of climate change”.

He also said that inaction runs the risk of “correctly being regarded by future survivors of our planet as having been in collusion with the destruction of the lives and life-worlds of some of the most vulnerable peoples of our human family and the biodiversity on which our planetary life depends”.

“The time to act is now,” he added.

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Attenborough’s speech

In similar remarks published today, veteran broadcaster David Attenborough has warned of the climate change threat from Covid-19.

The 94-year-old, who has recently launched his new film A Life On Our Planet, said several international climate conferences, such as COP26, had been cancelled because of Covid-19 and he feared people would have other priorities.

Praising Greta Thunberg, he said: “If there is any sign of hope, and there is to be truthful compared to what there was 25 years ago, it’s because of what you’ve done and what you’ve done for young people.

“Young people around the world are really, really going for it now because of you.

“The world owes you a lot and I hope you are not paying too high a price for it, and it looks from what you are saying that you are managing to survive alright.”

With reporting from PA

About the author:

Sean Murray

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