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VOICES

Eamon Ryan 'If we crack energy, we can crack climate'

The Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment & Communications says polluters need to pay up.

TODAY, THE 28TH meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or COP28, has begun in Dubai to try to make progress on the climate challenge we face. I welcome that there has been agreement on loss and damage on this opening day. It means we can also focus on the many other prescient issues we have to address.

We are not at all where we should be. The Global stock-take to be presented to us shows that we are on course to increase our overall emissions by 2030 rather than the reduction that our best scientists say we need.

In Ireland, we have started to turn the emissions ship around. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency showed that our emissions fell by nearly 2% and this year we expect a larger reduction. It’s not nearly enough, though. We have to go much faster and much further to reduce them exponentially in the coming years.

It will not be easy. Change never is. But we can’t bow out and leave the climate challenge to someone else. We need to act, not just to play our part but also to make sure that our economy is fit to deliver the cleaner, more secure and fairer society that climate action can bring.

Fossil fuels

As US Environmentalist Bill McKibben has written, in a world on fire, we have to stop burning things. A massive 86% of the world’s emissions come from energy, so put very simply, if we crack energy, we can crack climate.

In advance of COP28, I developed a concept note, which I have used as the basis for discussions with colleagues in Europe and across the globe in advance of this global summit. It has fed into Ireland’s position for COP and has also informed a robust European Commission position and the adoption of a “polluter pays principle”.

This means that sectors, like the fossil fuel industry, have to pay their fair share for the impact of their businesses on climate damage and also start being part of the solution rather than the cause of the problem.

We need to phase out fossil fuels and eliminate the wasteful release of the harmful methane that comes from fossil fuel leaks, evaporation and mindless flaring. I will be advocating hard for this. However, in reality, this will not happen immediately. We will continue to use fossil fuels as we transition to a new green future.

What can happen immediately, however, is that we can work with the fossil fuel companies to ensure that they increase their investment in this new green future, particularly in the developing world, and Africa particularly. This will provide the poorest countries in the world with a reliable, homegrown, green energy systems to power their own economies and help lift them out of indentured debt and poverty.

Sustainable development

We need this investment in the developing world to deliver on the sustainable development goals that protect us all. A recent Oxfam report told us that the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest produce more emissions than the five billion poorest. Within this unequal world, 600 million people in Africa have no access at all to electricity, and we have the bizarre reality that the Netherlands, which is half the size of Ireland, has more solar panels than the entirety of Africa, which has 60% of the world’s solar radiation.

Climate justice must be at the heart of climate action. Last year, the global profits from the fossil fuel industry topped four trillion dollars, according to the International Energy Agency. Of this, they only invested 2.5% of their wealth in new clean energy and the majority of this was in developed economies like the United States, Europe or China. Only one to two per cent of this already tiny proportion was invested in the developing world.

There is nothing just about this. This has to change, and not only for climate reasons. If we invest in Africa, for example, we are immediately supporting countries most affected by climate and least responsible for its causes.

We can support development in countries where some of the world’s most intractable conflicts are taking place. In addition, this shift to energy equity can help manage forced climate migration, one of the greatest challenges we face. With a source of reliable solar power in North Africa or the Middle East, paired with supergrid technology, it can also provide a source of power to share with Europe when needed.

To achieve this, we will have to get a political agreement on changing the financial architecture of the world. This is a big ambition, but it’s what we have to aim for this COP because the system as we have it is not serving our purposes. It’s not working for climate. It’s not working for developing countries, and it’s not working for those who do want to invest.

We will need to put in place new systems and structures to reduce the cost of this global green energy revolution. It will require radical reform of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It also means reducing currency risks, ensuring better regulation and accounting transparency, and making sure there are the capacity and skills available in developing countries to build the infrastructure and the grids that are needed. 

Everyone wins

This can be a win-win, good for the developing world, good for climate and good for us because it will create a more stable world which can be at peace.

Besides, it’s happening already. This year, for the first time ever, the total investment in renewable energy will outstrip investment in fossil fuel development. But we have to go much further to reach the 4.5 trillion dollar investment in clean energy that the International Energy Agency estimates we need to be spending each year by the next decade to put us on the pathway to net zero.

In this new world, fossil fuel companies 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.

They have to play their part. COP28 is where this can start.

And so do we. Ireland may be small, but we have a respected voice in development and diplomacy. I’m looking forward to COP 28 and to the opportunity to represent Ireland’s voice as we work to shift the world towards a more just and green future.

Eamon Ryan is Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment & Communications.