By Dominic McGrath and Rebecca Black, PA
The Irish premier, Micheal Martin, has warned that “time is ticking” for action on climate change.
He cited progress in “all countries bar one or two”, acknowledging the existential nature of the threat, and commending President Joe Biden for bringing the US onboard.
“The United States with President Biden at the helm with the European Union together have really driven increased momentum now in the last year or two, I take great hope from that because if you look at the last four years, the United States were out of the equation, they had come out of the Paris accord, now they’re back in, now they’re driving the agenda. That’s positive,” he told RTE.
“The problem is time and time is ticking.
“That would be a concern, that some countries are still too slow in reacting to this, and we ourselves have to speed up and accelerate our action in terms of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Taoiseach joined other world leaders at the climate conference in Scotland, where he took the opportunity to defend Ireland’s own record on climate action.
He said he believed a successful outcome to the summit from not just Ireland’s perspective but the global perspective would be “increased momentum, to build on what was agreed at Paris and to turn the aspiration into action”.
“There is a real sense of urgency here, the young people have spoken, they want political leaders to act, they want societies to change their behaviour, and the positive thing is that it can bring a lot of benefits – cleaner waterways, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle all round if we make the change in behaviour, move away from fossil fuels into renewables, public transport and a better way of living our lives,” he said.
The Irish government is preparing to publish the Climate Action Plan, which will provide greater detail on how the country plans to drastically cut carbon emissions over the next decade.
That plan will be discussed by cabinet ministers this week.
Mr Martin said it was imperative that the world responded to the challenge of climate change.
“I think economically we have to do what we’re doing,” he told reporters.
“Because it would not be economically sustainable to carry on the way we are carrying on nationally or globally, because the severe weather events that are happening are very disruptive.”
Carbon taxes, which have been criticised for hiking the cost of living for consumers, are a necessary way of both changing behaviour and funding the measures needed to tackle climate change, Mr Martin said.
“You do need to fund and the carbon tax over time will provide very substantial resources to enable us to do those things, as well as just transition,” the Taoiseach said.
“I don’t see why people would be against cleaner oceans and cleaner water, fresher air and a healthier lifestyle. And that’s actually what we can develop,” he said.
Mr Martin rejected the suggestion that Ireland’s own record on climate action rendered some of his own government’s rhetoric hollow.
He said: “I think there’s been a step change since the new government was brought in.
“We’ve increased significantly the ambition.
“There will be challenges in implementing that. They don’t ring hollow.”
However, Mr Martin was unclear whether Ireland would be reducing methane emissions by 30% in the next decade, in line with agreed EU targets.
He said: “We do support that pledge. And we’ll be signing that. That’s a global pledge.
“It’s a global pledge. It’s not a country-specific pledge, in the sense that we will develop our Climate Action Plan, which will give our specifics in respect to the sector.
“The specific manifestation of that in each country may differ because different countries have different challenges in that respect, or produce methane at different levels in different sectors.”
Mr Martin also confirmed that Ireland would be doubling its contribution to climate finance for developing countries impacted by climate change from around 93 million euros to 225 million euros by 2025.
That promise was outlined in the Programme for Government agreed between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens.
Earlier, Irish finance minister Paschal Donohoe said he would not pressure the US to do more to tackle climate change.
He was speaking as the US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, arrived in Dublin for a series of engagements, including a meeting with Mr Donohoe.
Mr Donohoe praised the close relationship between Ireland and Joe Biden’s administration, but played down any suggestion he might ask the US to do more to reduce carbon emissions.
“I’ll be reviewing where we are in Ireland with regards to how we want to reduce our carbon emissions. And I think when we all need to do so much together, I think we should shy away really from making lectures or describing difficulties that other countries may have,” he said.
“President Biden and Secretary Yellen are very much aware of the obligation that the United States has to reduce its carbon emissions, as I am as a member of the Irish government for Ireland.
“And I think we’ll be focusing on what we can do together and acknowledging the great difficulties that there are at times in executing what we want to do.”
Mr Donohoe said he would not be among the Irish ministers attending Cop26.
“The Finance Bill for the Budget is beginning this week. That Finance Bill includes measures to increase carbon taxation.
“I believe these are the kinds of concrete and practical contributions we can make here in Ireland to how we do better from a carbon point of view, and the government will be represented by a range of other members of government during that time,” he told RTE radio.
“The breadth of government ministers that are attending speaks to the importance that we place on what is happening in Glasgow. I need to bring in our budgetary legislation this week into the Dail, and given the fact that carbon taxation is a very important element of that, I think my time is best spent doing that.”
Mr Donohoe was asked whether he regretted overseeing the expansion of Ireland’s dairy herd.
“If I look back on the last decade, and the many challenges that we have had and faced, the expansion of our dairy herd would not be one of the things that is a cause for the greatest anxiety for me, given all that we’ve gone through over the decades,” he said.
The minister declined to comment on the expectation that agriculture might be asked to cut emissions by between 20% and 30% over the next decade as part of Ireland’s attempt to meet climate targets.
“It is the case that we will be asking our farmers to play a role, and an important role, in how we reduce our emissions. But we will be asking everybody to do that. And we’re particularly conscious of the needs and challenges that (are) coupled with Irish farming,” he said.