Ireland has no choice but to reduce its emissions, says Ryan

‘We will deliver those reductions because not doing so is not politically tenable’

Failing to address Ireland’s carbon emissions problem quickly is not in the national interest and could affect foreign direct investment in the country, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has said.

Mr Ryan acknowledged that it was taking time to reduce emissions, but said the latest report of the Climate Change Performance Index issued on Monday had found the right policies were being put in place by the Government.

Speaking in Sharm El-Sheik, where he is attending the Cop27 climate summit, he said these policies would have to be delivered. “Ignoring Irish climate law, ignoring EU climate law, telling the business community that invests in our country that we’re not going to be 1.5 [and reduce emissions], that would not be in our interests. It’s in our interests to make the cuts collectively as a people.”

With EU ambition being scaled up, not meeting targets was not an option. “If we say we cannot meet targets – the emissions reductions needed – we would be pilloried and exposed in Europe and the wider world,” he said.


He said he had told fellow Cabinet Ministers that not meeting the targets was not an option because of a very strong Climate Act; if targets were not met they would have to adjust policies. “We will deliver those reductions because, to my mind, not doing so is not politically tenable,” Mr Ryan said.

He said it was important at Cop27 that people did not give up on the 1.5 degree target to contain global warming and to reduce emissions accordingly, as “that would be taking the foot off the level of ambition and we need all the ambition we can get” in addressing the climate crisis.

Ireland negotiates under the EU umbrella but it was pushing for climate finance under the headings of adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage from a diverse range of sources that takes into account the differing needs of the most vulnerable countries.

That needs to happen now and not take up to 10 years to set up as had happened in the past, Mr Ryan said. “We need a strong loss and damage commitment this week and to apply the Irish experience.” This meant ensuring strong local engagement, rather than providing top-down funds, he said.

Speaking at a briefing, the Minister said there was a need for greater urgency. There was a need for new sources of climate funding and a mechanism targeting fossil fuel companies, shipping and aviation, he said.

Mr Ryan said he agreed with the concept of fossil fuel anti-proliferation treaty. On fossil fuel subsidies, Ireland is “ahead of the curve” when it came to fracking, oil and gas exploration and peat extraction, he said.

Chairwoman of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) Marie Donnelly expressed disappointment that some senior ranking countries were in effect not present at Cop27, which she said may indicate a softening of political commitment to achieve the necessary targets of the Paris Agreement. But she welcomed loss and damage being on the agenda, as well as the key issue of adaptation and resilience, which was “quite under developed”, and affected countries differently, including Ireland.

She was concerned about any move to weaken commitments to tackle climate change. “I’m the first to acknowledge that 1.5 is a very difficult objective. But what’s the point of having a target that isn’t a stretch target? You’ve got to aim for it. And if we miss it by a little bit, that’s fine.”

Not to do so would weaken the ambition and mean 1.5 degrees would be exceeded, Ms Donnelly said. “There is no alternative, we have to stick to Paris.”

Not to do so, she said, gave countries an opportunity not to take action and not to take it as fast; “it gives them an excuse to perhaps continue some of the practices that we really would prefer that they didn’t do”.

“The reality is 1.5 is extinction for the Marshall Islands ... 1.5 for us is a warm summer,” she said. “So you have to put it into perspective. One of the advantages of Cops is you understand it’s not just your own little patch and there’s other people in the world who are going to be affected in a much more adverse way.”

On Cop27, she said “I had my way, the first, the middle and the last item on the agenda would be to stop all funding of fossil fuel exploration. We’ve found enough. We don’t need any more. My message to Irish banks is ‘come clean on what you invest in and then be able to stand over it’.”

The CCAC would “definitely” support a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, Ms Donnelly said.

On Ireland’s new climate action plan due to be published next month, she said instead of 600 actions in next she would “rather 10 in each sector”.

She said she would start with electricity and have energy consumers who are suffering from high prices at the centre of actions. “I think we really need to crank up smart meters, the tariffs that go with smart meters so people have a choice and can use electricity at the cheapest point in time.”

She said she was a 100 per cent a supporter of offshore wind “but we have onshore wind at half the price, we have onshore solar at half the price”. Ireland would need both onshore and offshore at scale provided with urgency, Ms Donnelly believed.

There was an urgent shift demand in the transport sector, she underlined. “Even if every part of the country was electric, we cannot have 2.5 million cars on our roads. So number one, reallocation of road space. Give the streets back to people would be my message in the transport space.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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