Mary Robinson: Ukraine fallout should serve as catalyst for move to clean energy

The former President of Ireland said she was concerned the war could cause climate change to slip down the agenda
Mary Robinson: Ukraine fallout should serve as catalyst for move to clean energy

Olivia Kelleher

Former President of Ireland and Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson has warned that the fallout from the Ukraine war should not catapult Ireland in the direction of increased fossil fuel usage but should instead serve as a catalyst for a move to clean energy.

Mrs Robinson was speaking on Newstalk Breakfast to discuss the stark warning from the UN's latest climate report, which says it is "now or never" to limit the warming of the earth and avoid a climate catastrophe.

The former UN Commissioner for Human Rights said she was concerned that the war on our doorstep in Europe could cause the climate change issue to slip down the agenda and potentially put pressure on people to accelerate their use of fossil fuels.

"I am concerned. Obviously the war in Ukraine is terrible and we are seeing the images of just how awful and brutal and cruel and unacceptable war is on our doorstep in Europe. It is shocking and awful and it does put pressure to get out of Russian oil and gas," she said.

"Frankly Europe should do that now but it should then pivot to getting gas in the very short-term from, as is happening, from Qatar, from the US, from Azerbaijan, possibly from parts of Africa even. And pivot in the short-term so people don't have complete no energy."

However, Mrs Robinson said the plan should not then be to open new North Sea oil fields or get involved in fracking "or any solution like that."

Clean energy 'costs money'

"It should be now we will pivot much more quickly to clean energy. And that costs money. I think it is really important that, and I keep saying this, that we spend our children's money wisely. That we actually here in Ireland - the report says we should be going six times faster in to clean energy.

"So if we increase by a factor of six our investment in clean energy that would cost money. It would cost money to help to refit houses. There is a grant for that. Maybe it should be improved even further.

"To really have every county in Ireland looking at buildings to see if they could be made more efficient. It is beginning to happen. I know it is beginning to happen. We need to increase it by six times. That will cost.

"And what I am saying is that it is worth it. If we don't pay it our children won't have a liveable future. I hope every parent and grandparent hears that."

If we get really serious about it our lives will become much better.

Mrs Robinson stressed that the nation needs to look at the upside of clean energy.

"It will be a much healthier world because we won't have the fossil fuels which cause so many deaths around the world, indoor and outdoor with pollution. We will have a greener world. We will have greener cities and better countrysides.

"In the early days of Covid we saw the air was clearer. We all regrouped with nature. That will happen much more. If we get really serious about it our lives will become much better.

"The (Government) is moving in the right direction but like other governments, it is not going fast enough."

Eight year moonshot

Meanwhile, Mrs Robinson said we should be grateful to scientists because they have consistently been telling us what we need to hear.

"And what we may not be prepared to hear and listen to, but what is absolutely factual now, [is] that we have a very stark time where it is a 'now or never dash,' if you like, to a low carbon economy and society.

"We do have to peak emissions by 2025 in three years' time and shrink emissions by 43 per cent by 2030. That is eight years from now. So it is absolutely really a giant shift to clean energy.

"Moonshot I call it. Moonshot being like when John F Kennedy in eight years put a man on the moon. It was impossible but it happened in eight years. We have got eight years - we have got to do that switch."

We are still not implementing as urgently as we should what people know is the way we have to go.

She added that the penny has finally dropped in society that we are in a "now or never" scenario in terms of climate change.

"I think that is true. I was in Glasgow at COP there. All the countries and companies and investment were all talking about 1.5 degree warming. That is kind of new. We are in a new position now. It is better than the full goal of Paris, which was well below two degrees and working for 1.5.

"Now we know we have to be aligned. Now we know we have to be aligned very, very quickly. It is getting more urgent by the minute. And what the Secretary General said was very interesting.

"He said that the fact that the report is so stark means that governments are saying one thing and doing another. And companies are saying one thing and doing another. So in other words we are still not implementing as urgently as we should what people know is the way we have to go."

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