Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has strongly denied there are differences within the Government on how exactly to phase out fossil fuels, and confirmed Ireland will deploy controversial carbon-capture and storage technologies in coming years.
Speaking at a media briefing at Cop28 on Sunday, he said the Government was at one in supporting fossil fuel phase-out, and added: “Hands up, and be honest here. We’re going to do carbon capture and storage (CCS).”
Opponents of CCS say it is unproven at scale and costly when other viable decarbonisation options are available. The push for agreement on phasing out fossil fuels has dominated the climate talks in Dubai.
Friends of the Earth called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to clarify exactly what he meant by “a planned reduction in the use of fossil fuels” when he addressed Cop28 on Saturday.
Its chief executive Oisín Coghlan said: “Italy’s new prime minister straightforwardly committed to the goal of phasing out fossil fuels. The Taoiseach’s language was more ambiguous, if not evasive. We need the Government to clarify that Ireland is committed to phasing out fossil fuels entirely, not just reducing them. If the Italian Government can speak plainly, surely the Irish Government can too.”
To meet Ireland’s targets in the next national climate plan, it will be identified as one of additional measures needed, including using CCS at the incinerator in Ringsend and cement plants, Mr Ryan said.
“You can do that. You can take the carbon. So we’ll be doing carbon capture and storage in Ireland. And so in that context, the Taoiseach is correct,” he added.
“But you can’t use that as a cover for unsustainable fossil fuel expansion. The idea that we’re going to have a massive expansion of fossil fuels with new oilfields, new gas discoveries is not in line with the 1.5 degree [global temperature limit] which [Cop28 president] Sultan al-Jaber describes here as the North Star we need to stick to.”
Mr Ryan accepted some people have valid concerns that abatement – ie using CCS – could be used as a get-out-of-jail card for the fossil fuel industry. “One of the things we need here is real scientific assessment of how much exactly would we need abatement for the likes of the steel and cement sector. So, yes, there will be CCS abatement, but it can’t be a cover for … unsustainable and unsafe fossil fuel expansion.”
After his address to Cop28 Mr Varadkar defended his position on getting rid of unabated fossil fuels despite UN secretary general António Guterres, and Pope Francis in a message read on Saturday, calling for unequivocal elimination of fossil fuels.
The Taoiseach said: “The objective here is to stop climate change and stop global warming and maybe even be able to reverse it in a few decades time. How do we do that? We do it by phasing out fossil fuels. But if it’s the case that there are technologies like carbon capture and storage that can be developed to stop those gases going into the atmosphere, then that achieves the objective.”
He rejected the view that the technologies were decades away and so should not be considered an option. “I would have heard people 10 years ago laughing at the idea that we would have solar farms in our lands. And look how much that technology has changed. We need to be open to new technologies. And just because they mightn’t be commercially viable for 10 years or 20 years. That that’s not a reason to dismiss them, because this is a problem that we’re going to be dealing with for decades.
The Taoiseach accepted this should not be used to justify the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Mr Guterres, however, told global leaders on Friday: “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear time frame aligned with 1.5 degrees”