Irish business needs to be ‘bold and ambitious’ in tackling climate change

Unicef Ireland’s Paul Connolly urges companies to summon ‘that emergency spirit’ to help combat climate change, which is already harming millions of children

A year ago, Unicef Ireland was proud to join forces with some of Ireland’s leading companies to launch a corporate vaccine alliance and put our collective strength behind Unicef’s role in the global roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines.

Business leaders from Aerogen, Avolon, ESB, ICON plc, KPMG Ireland, Mason Hayes & Curran, Zurich Ireland and 20 other companies here banded together to support fair and equitable global Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Senior executives told us their businesses shared a historic mission and knew their response was not solely delivering outcomes on an ethical level, but also contributing to the rebuilding of the global economy.

Looking back, we see in many ways their analysis was accurate. Slowly, as vaccine deliveries spread across the world, we witnessed our lives and the global economy opening up. Since the alliance formed, Unicef has delivered more than one billion vaccines to those in need around the world. And it is clear these global vaccination efforts, in which the alliance invested, have contributed significantly to the rebounding of economic life.

However, in these turbulent times, an even more perilous crisis comes into starker focus with every passing day. With Cop27 held last month, the world’s attention has been turned to the worsening impact of the climate crisis and the urgent need for a systemic global and national response. That includes the corporate sector.


The economic impact of Covid-19 has been significant, but the GDP impacts of climate are permanent, long-term and grow larger with each year of inaction.

Unicef’s vision is that every child grows up in a safe, clean and healthy environment. All children, everywhere, have that right. But we are far from this vision, and it is becoming critical. For children around the world the climate emergency is now a real-life nightmare. In raw number terms some 90 per cent are already highly exposed to high levels of air pollution, more than one-third are highly exposed to water scarcity, 820 million children are highly exposed to heatwaves, and 99 per cent of children globally are exposed to at least one climate or environmental shock.

Just two weeks ago, a mission from Unicef Ireland witnessed the devastating climate change-induced drought affecting millions of people in Somalia – a grim harbinger of what lies ahead if urgent action is not taken now.

Through Irish corporate support for the Unicef Vaccine Alliance, the immense power of vaccines has been reinforced. And now we need companies, Irish and global, to step up again on climate action.

There are many things companies can and should do. They should commit to setting ambitious science-based emissions reduction targets; recognise the importance of supporting climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children and communities and commit to adopting environmentally-friendly practices, including sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy for their operations. Alongside all of this, they should make sure that the transition to a green economy upholds the rights and wellbeing of children and their communities.

Every dollar spent on childhood immunisations today yields $44 (€41.4) in future economic benefits, and investments to realise the Paris Agreement goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will cost far less than the economic cost of inaction.

We must tool up again and find that same emergency spirit for climate action

We all recognise how significant a period of global uncertainty we are in. However, amid any storm, what matters most is keeping a steady bearing. That is why, from a Unicef perspective, it was so inspiring to witness Irish companies committing to an effort of global significance during the pandemic. We could see how much delivering on a positive mission meant to everyone in the businesses, from staff to customers. And we believe the same is now true for climate action.

A recent Ipsos survey found that 68 per cent of people globally believe that businesses that do not act to combat climate change are failing their employees and customers. For many of us, the pandemic only deepened our connection to nature and the environment. We saw more clearly what it meant to us personally, as well as to our society. More and more people are rightly calling on businesses to reflect those values and adopt business models and CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategies that are guided by ethical and social responsibility.

They are asking for companies to act at a speed that we once thought impossible. During the pandemic, businesses, governments and humanitarian organisations, like Unicef, summoned the energy and ambition needed to tackle a global emergency. Together, through partnerships, we rapidly adapted the way we operated to deliver positive change at an unimaginable scale. We must tool up again and find that same emergency spirit for climate action.

Children are uniquely affected by the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, and they are the least responsible. It was an inspiring sight to witness so many Irish companies rowing in behind an internationally focused effort during the pandemic, and we must celebrate that incredible effort. However, at Unicef, at this time of unparalleled global crisis, we also hope their pandemic efforts and urgency will act as an example to encourage more Irish companies to make a difference on the global stage. On climate, it is now or never. The world and its children need big, collective change, and Irish business has got to be bold and ambitious to make it happen.

Paul Connolly is chairman of Unicef Ireland