Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Global leaders must respond to climate alarm that has never rung so loudly, Taoiseach tells Cop28

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Ireland is a wealthy country but is struggling to make as much progress as needed to tackle the climate crisis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in his address to Cop28 on Saturday.

While the Government was constantly looking at ways to improve its response, he said he was conscious of the even greater challenges others faced, particularly the least developed countries and small-island developing states.

In that context, the new “loss and damage fund” must begin disbursing finance as soon as possible, he told global leaders in Dubai. The fund was approved by Cop28 countries on Friday.

Ireland will double its climate finance to at least €225 million per year by 2025, and this year, the State will spend close to €150 million, he confirmed – as previously announced. This will include a contribution of €25 million [in total] to the new fund for 2024 and 2025. “We will make further contributions thereafter,” he said. Ireland’s allocation is understood to be among the highest on a per capita basis.

There is a profound responsibility on the shoulders of global leaders to address the climate crisis, the Taoiseach said at the plenary gathering. “Never before have the alarm bells been ringing so loudly. We must rise to this challenge. I believe we can,” Mr Varadkar added. “We cannot prevent climate change, we’re well past that point, but by acting urgently now, we can limit its extent and mitigate its worst effects.”

In mobilising societies, the Taoiseach underlined the need to recognise concerns “and bring people with us – our farmers, our workers, our enterprises, our people”.

With the rising cost-of-living and high energy prices, many worry about how much the transition will cost and what it will mean for their jobs and incomes and living standards, he noted.

“Those are legitimate concerns. We need to understand where people are coming from and offer reassurance. Change is difficult, but we must do everything in our power to make the transition just, protecting the vulnerable and leave nobody behind,” he said.

There was a need to do a better job explaining the benefits: “a liveable planet, cleaner air, new jobs and economic opportunities; a more secure world, with less conflict over resources, more reliable energy, fewer people on the move from homes that can no longer support them”.

He called on leaders to work to ensure “the world has the financial firepower and institutions and infrastructure it needs to make the journey we need to make together”.

In rising to the challenge of UN secretary general António Guterres “to turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition”, he said: “We have to prioritise investment in energy access and low carbon development for the most vulnerable countries. This COP must also set us on a clear path to a safe and planned reduction in the use of fossil fuels.”

He said the Government was committed to halving emissions by 2030, and to climate neutrality by 2050. This was reinforced by a climate law, a carbon budget and the new infrastructure, climate and nature fund’ and a future Ireland fund’ to help meet the costs. “This will put billions aside for future investment for future generations,” he said.

“We have a carbon tax to incentivise the shift from fossil fuels with money used to ensure a just transition, retrofitting our housing stock, installing EV charging points, and helping farmers adopt sustainable practices.”

Speaking at Cop28 Christian Aid Ireland’s policy and advocacy officer Ross Fitzpatrick said it was “extremely regrettable” to see loss and damage funding coming from existing climate finance commitments, as additional funding was urgently needed by countries on the frontline to help them recover and rebuild in the aftermath of climate disasters.

“Ireland must contribute much more over the next year and beyond to help ensure these countries are not left picking up the tab for the unavoidable and irreversible impacts of a climate crisis not of their making for any longer than they already have.”

“The €25 million contribution announced by Ireland today needs to be the floor of its ambition. The costs for developing countries from the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis could reach up to half a trillion dollars by 2030 and Christian Aid’s recent research estimates Ireland’s fair share of loss and damage finance to be at least €1.5 billion per year by the end of the decade,” he said.

“Ireland and indeed all wealthy, historically high polluting countries, must now urgently provide detailed, timebound plans on how they will raise the revenue needed for the loss and damage fund,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

Jerry MacEvilly, head of policy for Friends of the Earth, said while he supported the Taoiseach’s demand that the Cop set a clear path to a safe and planned reduction of fossil fuels, “the reality is that a renewables revolution is not enough – hard limits on fossil fuels are essential”.

“Commitments to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency, and bring clean power to all would be transformative. Unfortunately, fossil fuels remain the elephant in the room at this year’s Cop. The only way to adhere to the Paris Agreement and ensure a liveable climate is to urgently and equitably end dependence on dirty gas, coal and oil in Ireland and globally,” he added.

At Cop28, the Government must prioritise the position that Ireland and 15 other states recently signed up to as part of the high ambition Coalition, including a phase-out of fossil fuel production and use, urgent reductions in methane emissions, and ending finance and subsidies for fossil fuel development, Mr MacEvilly said.

The Taoiseach repeated Ireland’s support for small island states which was positive, he said, but “what does support for these states mean in reality if it does not prioritise ending the fossil fuels that are driving the loss of their lands?”

He called on the Government to support these states by building diplomatic support for a new fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

Trócaire’s head of policy and advocacy, Siobhán Curran, said: “Taking money already promised to mitigation and adaptation, and moving it to deal with loss and damage is not the answer. A repackaging of previous finance promises is not enough.”

“We cannot continue to let the poorest people in the world pay the price for the climate crisis. Therefore, richer countries including Ireland must fill the fund as swiftly as possible with new, additional, adequate, accessible, grant and need based finance, based on our historical responsibility for emissions, she added.

As a wealthy country, “responsible for more than our fair share of emissions”, Ireland must lead in filling the fund which had been hard fought for by developing countries who did least to cause this crisis, and “who are being pushed into debt and diverting much needed public finance into dealing with catastrophic climate impacts”.

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