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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 28 February, 2020

Alan Kelly: Ireland must face up to its climate change obligations

Outgoing Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly is in New York as over 150 countries sign the historic Paris climate deal.

Minister Alan Kelly

TODAY IS EARTH Day and I am in New York where the nations of the world are gathering to give effect to the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) that was finalised last December.

Having represented Ireland at the negotiations in Paris, I am proud today to sign the agreement at the United Nations on behalf of our country. The negotiations at Paris and the signature today are statements of intent on behalf of Ireland but we must now act on our intentions once and for all.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon must be congratulated for continually putting climate change at the heart of global debate. I was particularly struck by his comments at Dublin Castle last year when he praised the global effort of Irish agencies in relation to hunger and famine but reminded us that we cannot be a leader on hunger without being a leader on climate change.

He is right. We have seen that leadership most notably from former president Mary Robinson but we must now also see it from every organ of government, from all sectors of society and from all of us as individuals.

There is a clear responsibility on the government to put in place the framework that will allow Ireland meet its obligations but there is also an obligation on all of us as individuals to act responsibly in the context of climate change. In everything the government does, we must now put climate change front and centre in our decision-making processes.

I would go as far as to say that all significant government acts, from legislation to infrastructure projects, should effectively be “climate-proofed” before being adopted. In the same way that proposals are currently subject to budgetary scrutiny, we should now consider the application of similar climate change scrutiny.

The outgoing government began the process with the adoption of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act last year and the establishment of the Climate Change Advisory Council. The incoming government now needs to progress our climate change policy further in the light of the agreement signed at the United Nations today.

If this requires the appointment of a climate minister at either junior ministerial or cabinet level then it should be considered. The appointment of such a minister with specific responsibility for climate change would send a strong signal to our international partners that Ireland intends to be a leader in responding to climate change.

Such changes by their nature will be incremental but they must be permanent. Priority should be given to education and advocacy in relation to climate change and the government needs to facilitate and reward the changes to lifestyle and everyday activities that must progressively occur.

France Climate Countdown R to L: French President Francois Hollande, COP21 president Laurent Fabius, UN secretary general Ban ki-Moon and UN climate chief Christiana Figueres applaud at the Paris conference. Source: Francois Mori/AP/Press Association Images

Taking the first step

Small changes can have significant results as the adoption of simple but effective measures in the area of commuting. The introduction of city bike schemes and cashless ticketing for public transport through the leap card has had demonstrable effects on how people commute in our urban areas.

Passenger numbers are up considerably on all forms of public transport but we now face issues of capacity, especially in Dublin. The National Transport Authority recently published its transport strategy for the Greater Dublin Area.

Many of its capital infrastructure proposals are expensive but are also necessary in the context of adapting our commuting patterns in the context of climate change. Again, these proposals for key public transport infrastructure projects must be given priority by the new government.

Climate change is real and the causes of climate change are clear. The effects of climate change can be seen locally in wildly varying weather patterns in Ireland and globally in increasing hunger and poverty.

The opportunity to mitigate climate change through a reduction in carbon output must be seized. Today is the first step by both Ireland and our global partners. We must now follow through on our commitments with action that is both decisive and effective.

Alan Kelly TD is Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Read: 2015 was the hottest year EVER on record

Read: 195 nations approve deal that could save the world from a climate meltdown

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Minister Alan Kelly

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