States awash with fossil fuel profits should divert funds to tackle climate crisis, says Eamon Ryan

Saudi Arabia spends €875m on soccer players in three months and ‘can afford’ to contribute more towards climate crisis

Petrostates such as Saudi Arabia should be funding global efforts to address the climate crisis by diverting vast profits being spent on soccer and golf to address the climate crisis, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has said.

Speaking at a briefing during the Global Ireland Summit in Dublin Castle on Tuesday, Mr Ryan said Saudi Arabia had put €875 million into soccer recently and €2 billion into golf in the past two years. He said “the polluter has to pay”.

“If Saudi Arabia can afford €875 million spent on soccer players in the last three months, they can afford to contribute towards the climate crisis we have,” he said.

While he said he was not singling out Saudi Arabia, part of the sums involved could go to “some of the most desperate hungry people in the world” and help developing countries, especially in Africa, switch to clean energy.


Profits coming from use of fossil fuels could be redirected in part to benefit climate vulnerable states “and we could start it on a voluntary basis”.

He later told the summit attended by Irish ambassadors and foreign diplomats in Ireland this would be the position he would bring to Cop28 climate negotiations in UAE later this year, adding he would be asking the Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish diplomats to spread a message of “we stand up for the poorest countries in the world”.

This, Mr Ryan noted, was in line with a decision by European Environment Council to put the polluter pays principle at the heart of the EU negotiating position in Dubai.

Ireland was uniquely placed to help make this happen, especially in making fossil fuel industries help finance “loss and damage” impacts on climate-vulnerable countries, he said.

“That’s our role in the world; to be a voice for justice, for climate justice. And I think we’re well placed to do it. We’re good at development aid. It’s not tied to commercial interests, it’s not tied to military objectives,” Mr Ryan said.

A critical issue, however, was where the money is going to come from, the Minister said. He supported deploying innovative sources of climate funding including a 1 per cent aviation tax that could generate $8 billion a year, and a maritime levy on shipping.

Indications for Cop28 were not looking good, he said, especially at a time of conflict in the Middle East with talks stalled on a “loss and damage” fund agreed last year at Cop27. Yet it could be a vehicle not only to stabilise the climate but also “address the very difficult geopolitical position we are in right now”.

Radical reform of the global financial system would also be needed to provide the necessary climate finance for mitigation, adaptation, capacity building and loss and damage, he said.

“Too many parts of the world are at a disproportionate disadvantage. We are falling behind in our efforts to lift people out of extreme poverty. World levels of hunger are back to where they were in 2005. Some 15 per cent of countries are currently in debt default and 45 per cent are at risk of becoming so,” he told the summit.

Cop28 should provide certainty on delivering the existing $100 billion climate finance commitment while building momentum behind the reform of our multilateral financial institutions and financial markets to support a just energy transition, Mr Ryan said.

A goal of tripling renewable power and doubling energy efficiency by 2030 and charting a pathway to net-zero CO2 emissions to halt global warming was realisable, he added, but there were likely to be difficult discussions on phasing out or phasing down fossil fuels.

He said €1.7 trillion was invested this year in clean energy transition — but at the same time €1 trillion was invested in new fossil fuels, while the International Energy Agency had concluded a $4.5 trillion investment in renewables was required.

Countries have to choose what they spend their money on “but my argument would be let’s spend it on clean energy for Africa, particularly, because that’s where we’re seeing war and conflict and hunger and deprivation and we need to address that first”, he said. If clean electricity was provided for 600 million African people without electricity, it would stabilise countries and reduce forced migration.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times