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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to reporters at COP28 Lauren Boland/The Journal
Greenhouse Gases

No plans for Ireland to commit to further cuts in methane emissions at COP28 - Taoiseach

Varadkar said current targets need to be met before the government could be “serious and honest” about upping ambition.

THE TAOISEACH HAS said that the Irish government has no plans to commit to any additional targets to cut methane emissions at COP28 given that existing domestic targets are already not being met.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived at the COP28 climate conference this morning alongside around 160 other world leaders — though neither US President Joe Biden nor Chinese President Xi Jinping are in attendance.

The annual conferences have been historically slow to agree on any major commitments to work towards dramatically reducing fossil fuels, which are responsible for a significant proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat in the atmosphere and pushing temperatures upwards, but there are hopes that this year might bring some progress, including on methane.

Ireland signed up to a pledge at COP26 in Glasgow two years ago on cutting methane emissions by 30% but that hasn’t been realised in emissions targets set at home.

Speaking to reporters today, the Taoiseach said he believes current targets need to be met before the government could be “serious and honest” about looking towards higher ambition.

“I think at the moment our objective is to meet the commitments that we’ve made in relation to emissions. At the moment, we’re not reaching our targets when it comes to greenhouse gases, and that’s CO2 as well as methane, so I think we have to put the absolute focus on meeting the targets we’ve made already,” Varadkar said.

“We are making a lot of progress in a lot of areas — the scale up of renewables in the electricity sector in Ireland is something I’m very proud of, it’s something that’s really making some great progress; we’re also retrofitting about 30,000 old homes in Ireland every year — and we are now seeing some progress in agriculture: emissions falling, fertiliser use falling.

“What I want to do is to meet the targets that we’ve set, and only when we’re on trajectory to do that, can we be serious and honest about higher targets.”

Varadkar is in Dubai for a two-day summit of heads of states and governments taking place at the outset of the two-week conference.

He arrived in the UAE yesterday and visited Al Ain Farms, an Irish-run dairy farm in Abu Dhabi.

Food systems and agriculture are among important topics up for discussion at the conference given their role in influencing and being influenced by climate change and biodiversity.

In Ireland, the agriculture sector was responsible for 38.4% tonnes of emissions in 2022, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is driven by methane from livestock and nitrous oxides from nitrogen fertilisers.

An investigation by The Guardian and DeSmog published this week reported that meat companies and lobby groups were planning a significant presence at COP28 to try to promote an image of meat production as sustainable and environmentally beneficial.

Asked whether the Taoiseach or other Irish ministers are meeting with meat industry groups at this COP or promoting Ireland’s meat industry in meetings with other countries, the Taoiseach said: “Not at this meeting but one of the good things about COP is it brings everyone together. It’s governments, it’s NGOs, who engage in a lot of lobbying, and industry, which engages in a lot of lobbying too.”

“We need industry because if we’re going to change from fossil fuel generated electricity to renewables, those companies need to make that transition too, and when it comes to changing the way our food system works, it’s actually some of the big agricultural companies that are going to make those changes too.”

He said that “some of the big food producers in Ireland are already setting a target to reduce their emissions by 30%, which is higher than the government’s target for agriculture” and that he does not think people should “see industry as being the enemy – they’re not, we can’t make this transition without them”.

“But that doesn’t mean that we pander to them either. We can’t do that,” he added.

Ireland’s contribution to a new Loss and Damage Fund established yesterday is to come out of money that had already been earmarked for climate finance.

The government has already pledged to contribute €225 million to international climate finance each year. Climate finance is a term used to encapsulate funding for a broad range of measures, from efforts to try to prevent temperatures from rising to safeguards to protect people and places affected by climate change.

The adoption of the fund was one of the first decisions to come out of the COP, which began yesterday, and follows months of deliberations about where the money would come from and who it would go to. The purpose of the fund is to collect contributions from developed countries for helping more vulnerable that are already suffering from the impacts of the climate crisis.

Among countries to have contributed so far are the United Arab Emirates and Germany, which have each pledged $100 million; the UK with around $50.6 million, the US at $17.5 million, and Japan at $10 million.

The Taoiseach intends to announce the value of Ireland’s contribution tomorrow when he delivers a statement to the conference.

“I think it’s clear that insufficient progress has been made in taking climate action,” he said today.

“It is the existential existential crisis of our time and we have to be the generation that reverses the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss.” 

The two-day summit for world leaders is usually marked by a flurry of public declarations of support for climate action as countries to convince each other of their climate credentials.

134 countries, including Ireland, have signed up to a Food and Agriculture Declaration today saying that they will increase their efforts to integrate food systems into plans to reduce emissions while also supporting farmers and vulnerable food producers through funding, infrastructure and early warning systems for extreme weather events.

The UAE released a declaration on global climate finance, urging leaders to deliver on promises made in previous years to provide $100 billion of climate finance for developing countries.

But behind the scenes, an early negotiating draft says that “despite overall progress on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support, [countries] are not collectively on track to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement” — the deal struck eight years ago to try to keep temperatures within manageable levels.

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