Time to act on climate change


A year ago, almost to the day, Ireland’s Transition to a Low-Carbon Energy Future was published. This White Paper was approved by cabinet on my recommendation as minister, following months of careful deliberation, expert research and analysis, and with inputs from government departments, specialist agencies, businesses, and communities across the country. It deals with many critical issues, including renewable energy (by no means confined to wind, but recognising its significant contribution), energy efficiency, the enormous advances in technology that can be harnessed, the opportunities for business and for jobs in Ireland, and most importantly of all, the necessary transition from passive consumer to active “energy citizen”.

I see from your account of the Dáil debate on climate change that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment stated he wanted “a complete review of our renewable energy policy” (“Denis Naughten stresses need to persuade on climate change”, December 9th). It strikes me as strange that in the course of the Dáil debate little or no mention was made of the fact that all of these issues – including diversifying our renewable energy portfolio into solar, bioenergy and offshore technologies – have been so recently and comprehensively considered. I would strongly urge the Government not to turn back now on any of the progress made – whether in the White Paper or in the renewable energy plans of 2010 and 2012. The last thing this area of policy needs is more uncertainty or delay. What we need now are big and bold steps; even a pause could be a serious and costly mistake.

In the reorganisation of departmental functions, climate change policy and the environment are now merged with energy and natural resources. This largely makes sense, since the energy sector is so critical to addressing climate change. Future policy decisions regarding oil and gas exploration will have to be made in the light of the imperative to decarbonise, given that the White Paper marks the first time an Irish government has expressly stated, as a matter of settled policy, that we are going to eliminate – yes, eliminate – fossil fuels from our energy mix. A central element of the White Paper was a commitment to establishing, by the third quarter of 2016, an “Energy Forum” to bring people together to plot our exit strategy, and to do so in a manner that recognises both the enormity of the task, and the very real and exciting opportunities the transition will bring.

The Government intends to broaden this forum beyond what we had in mind in the White Paper, and that’s fine, so long as it means increasing rather than reducing the level of ambition involved, and that it gets under way soon.

Finally, while of course we need to persuade, we also all need to get real.

The evidence is clear; the only question now is whether we are going to act – and act together.