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Grace O'Sullivan: You wait for one Climate Action Bill, then two come along

MEP Grace O’Sullivan gives a broad welcome to Ireland’s Climate Action Bill and the EU’s Climate Law, both on the table this week.

Grace O'Sullivan MEP

WHEN I FIRST stood on the Antarctic ice in 1986 and visited again in 1989, it was starting to become evident that the effects of global warming were a growing threat to humanity.

All around me were spectacular, huge icebergs, but unbeknownst to us, they were melting and the resulting impacts on wildlife and habitats would soon be sounding warning bells.

Jump on three decades and in the intervening years I have despaired for the future of the planet. So it’s with some relief and a sense of guarded optimism and hope, that I say – it’s been quite the week for climate action!

A glimmer of hope

With the Climate Action Bill launched last week in the Dáil and the most ambitious ever Climate Law passed in the European Parliament on Thursday, for the first time in many years I’m feeling a cautious sense of hope.

I’ve been an environmental activist since my early teens; throughout my twenties and thirties when I worked with Greenpeace for twenty years (10 of those years at sea); and on through my forties and into my fifties as my work as a field ecologist continued to be focussed on what is the single biggest threat to face humanity over the past three decades and beyond.

Grace with penguins Ice is melting so fast in Antarctica that it es expected to raise sea levels by 2.5 metres. (Nature.com) Source: Grace O'Sullivan MEP

It was this existential threat that prompted me to move into politics. I felt my work as an activist needed to be expanded into the political arena.

I believed, and I continue to believe, that meaningful, impactful action on this life-threatening unfolding catastrophe can only come about with the support of ‘the powers that be.’

Over three decades after I first set foot on the continent of Antarctica, those earlier warnings have spiralled to the point where the planet is now in an emergency situation.

We’re on the brink of collapsing into an irreversible wipe-out of life on planet earth. That’s life in all its forms, including  – animal life, plant life, insect life, marine life and, most alarmingly, human life.

When I first got actively involved in climate activism, some of the terms that even children are familiar with now were not widely known or understood. It was the 1980s and the phrases climate change and global warming were largely brushed aside.

In those days, and indeed for the following decades, activism and concern in this area were largely considered the paranoid fixations of over-sensitive hippies.

While in recent years, awareness around the impacts of climate change has grown exponentially, we’ve been lagging behind on meaningful climate action. This despite the scientific evidence highlighting the effects of global warming and repeated warnings that excessive greenhouse gas emissions and the knock-on effects on climate and weather could lead to a total wipe-out of life on earth if unchecked.

A mountain to climb

I’m still very, very worried about the current state of the planet and the monumental hard work and system change that needs to happen if we are to save this dear earth of ours.

I will have a quiet celebration myself, to mark this historic week in the fight against climate change. The dual news around national and EU legislation on climate is a positive step in the right direction.

It’s a pivotal moment and these past days have been emotional ones for me and any celebration will be understated and overshadowed by the knowledge that there is still much to be done and the work starts now.

For the European Climate Law to be enacted it needs to be passed by the European Council. With support on climate legislation emanating from the European Council and widespread public pressure, I am optimistic and hopeful that the heads of state of the 27 members of the European Union will see fit to respond positively to the will of the rapidly growing public consensus, backed by irrefutable scientific evidence, that we are at the most important turning point in the history of the modern world.   

The double news of such decisive progress on national and European legislation is not to be scoffed at. I’m not being flippant when I say – you wait 35 years for a bus and along comes two! I’m acutely aware though, of the need for even further ambition in the fight to save the planet from the ravages of the climate emergency we are in though.

We are on borrowed time if we are to have any hope of avoiding an irreversible wipe-out of life on our planet.

As a mother of three daughters, I know I’m not alone in the anxiety I feel for my children’s futures, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility I feel around my commitments to doing everything I can possibly do to play my part in securing the future safety and recovery of our planet, our lifeline.

National and international legally binding commitments lend weight to our fight against time and help to ensure that every decision we make as individuals, as organisations and as nations is benchmarked against the goal of climate neutrality.

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Legislation on climate action has the potential to massively change people’s lives. It has the potential to enhance the quality of life and improve the way we work and live.

By introducing legislation in Ireland that has come about after a process involving cross-party engagement, and enhanced by Thursday’s successful vote on the European Climate Law, we put ourselves in a strong position as we progress the fight against climate change.

In recent years Ireland has been described as laggards when it comes to climate action. Next year I hope to mark the sixth anniversary of the Paris Agreement as a proud citizen and public representative of an Ireland that can proudly be called a leader, as we move towards becoming climate neutral.

Grace O’Sullivan is Green MEP for Ireland South, a peace and climate & social justice activist and ecologist. She is Green Party Ireland spokesperson on the Marine.

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Grace O'Sullivan MEP

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