Tuesday 25 October 2016

Meet 20 influencers who will shape our response to climate change

In the second part of a major INM series, Paul Melia identifies the experts who will lead crucial battle

Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30

Norman Crowley of Crowley Carbon Picture: Frank McGrath
Norman Crowley of Crowley Carbon Picture: Frank McGrath

Ireland faces an enormous challenge. World leaders have committed to tackling climate change and help keep average global temperatures below 2C - this will require major changes in how we live our lives.

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No sector of the economy will escape. Business as usual is not an option in transport, agriculture and food, the political spectrum, construction, energy and finance. Change is coming, and unless Ireland begins making the transition, it will be left behind.

The Environmental Protection Agency said last March it was "clear" that the State faced "significant challenges" to meet emission-reduction targets.

"Further policies and measures above and beyond those already in place and planned in the period to 2020 are essential in order to position Ireland on a pathway towards a low-carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, in line with the national objective of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Act 2015," it said.

Here, we highlight 20 thought leaders on climate working across all sectors of the economy, who will drive that change. The work of these innovators, policymakers and agencies will dictate whether our targets are met and if we make the necessary changes to help prevent dangerous climate change.

There is no shortage of people who could be highlighted, ranging from energy co-operatives and actors across the retail, local authority, construction and other sectors - and there are notable omissions.

Mary Robinson, former president and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, who is also a UN Special Envoy on El Nino and Climate, is not included because she has no role in policy development in Ireland.

Neither is Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who has done more than most in this area. This is because the Greens are unlikely to take a role in government in the near term.

The people outlined will drive the transition towards a low-carbon future. They may not necessarily have demonstrated they have skin in the game up to this point, but they must now deliver.

Denis Naughten, Minister at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Although roundly criticised by environmental groups for securing EU agreement for watered-down 2030 climate targets, the independent Roscommon TD will drive the climate agenda.

Among his immediate priorities are the introduction of incentives to ramp up use of renewables for heat and to develop solar energy, and new guidelines on wind farms are also due. He must also secure money to retrofit homes, and find funds to reduce energy consumption across the public sector.

While not directly responsible, he must also drive changes in transport and agriculture - the largest source of our emissions. If he is found wanting, the climate agenda will fail.

Simon Coveney, Minister at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government

With housing output expected to increase over the coming years, ensuring homes are planned and built in the right places is vitally important. Public transport links must be provided, along with essential local services including schools, shops and recreational activities, to reduce the need for the private car. It goes without saying that homes cannot be built on flood plains, but local authorities will be under pressure to approve units even if they have misgivings.

While the domestic building regulations are robust, the commercial standards need to be upgraded. City and county councils are key to driving and tackling climate change, and Mr Coveney's support for councils which choose to make difficult and ambitious decisions will be crucial.

Rosheen McGuckian of NTR
Rosheen McGuckian of NTR

Anne Graham, CEO, National Transport Authority

The NTA is responsible for public transport and encouraging use of sustainable modes of travel including bus, rail, cycling and walking.

There have been noticeable improvements in the transport sector in recent years, including the roll-out of the Leap card and public bikes schemes, the development of major projects including, Luas Cross City and work on opening the Phoenix Park Tunnel to commuter rail services.

But few children cycle to school, traffic congestion is back to Celtic Tiger levels and too many people rely on the car in the absence of public transport services; or they simply refuse to switch.

Tackling transport emissions is a major challenge, and the NTA will play a key role.

Norman Crowley, CEO Crowley Carbon and founder of the Cool Planet Experience

The entrepreneur's company reduces energy consumption for large industrial and commercial firms, and plans to take large energy users completely off-grid.

His mantra is that doing the right thing and reducing energy consumption is a win-win for businesses - which will enjoy far lower energy bills - and the planet.

There is no excuse for the public sector not to have an ambitious change programme, he says. The Cool Planet Experience, of which he is a founder, will open in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow next year. The interactive exhibition will be free to school groups, and aims to illustrate the extent of the climate change challenge and demonstrate some of the solutions.

Stephen Nolan, CEO, Sustainable Nation Ireland

Sustainable Nation Ireland (SNI) is focused on increasing the level of funds domiciled, managed or deployed from Ireland into low-carbon enterprises to €250bn by 2021.

Stephen Nolan's job is to bring policymakers, investors and individual companies together, to build on the momentum of the Paris climate agreement and develop Ireland as a world-leading hub for sustainable business investment.

SNI also provides supports to companies working in the sustainability sector, linking SMEs with mentors. He says he doesn't plan to be in the job in five years, as he hopes sustainability will be so ingrained in the business community that there will be no need for SNI.

Gene Murtagh, CEO, Kingspan

Insulation and building materials group Kingspan aims to be a global leader in sustainability. Operating in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia, the Co Cavan-based firm has been included in the top tier of global companies responding to the challenge of climate change, joining Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Dr.Cara Augustenborg of Friends of the Earth Ireland Picture: Tom Burke
Dr.Cara Augustenborg of Friends of the Earth Ireland Picture: Tom Burke

Appointed chief executive in 2005 aged just 33, Murtagh has overseen a Kingspan target to operate with a zero net energy impact by 2020. Its insulation materials are among the most efficient available, as the firm strives to reduce the impact of the built environment while making money.

Sean O'Driscoll, Group President, Glen Dimplex

Employing more than 10,000 worldwide, including 470 in Ireland, Glen Dimplex manufactures appliances, cooling and heating equipment and counts Morphy Richards, Dimplex and Xpelair among its brands.

The company has invested heavily in R&D, and is considered a leader in the environmental space. The firm is involved in an EU-funded home energy project called RealValue, where cutting-edge Glen Dimplex electrical storage systems are installed in homes. The project aims to demonstrate how these small-scale systems can benefit the entire electricity supply chain, including reducing home heating bills and storing renewable energy during periods of low demand.

Rosheen McGuckian, CEO, NTR

Renewable energy company NTR is a major player in the wind energy sector, and has constructed and operated 1.75GW of wind projects across the US, UK and Ireland.

Appointed in April 2013, Rosheen McGuckian also chairs the NTR Foundation, which invests in a number of initiatives aimed at helping Ireland move to a low-carbon economy.

It has provided €750,000 in funding to Ireland's centre for marine and renewable energy, MaREI in Cork, which will be used to research how best to meet future energy needs.

It also works with the Cool Planet Experience, Science Gallery, the wind energy centre in Letterkenny Institute of Technology and with Friends of the Earth Ireland.

Catherine Farrell, Ecologist, Bord na Móna

Environmentalists have long argued that the semi-state should stop harvesting peat well before 2030, and Bord na Móna's plan to restore peatlands over the coming years will be crucial to restoring its green credentials.

Key to that will be Catherine Farrell, an ecologist with the company. She has overseen a project to map and study all bog lands controlled by the firm, and develop measures to rehabilitate them, including creating wetlands and woodlands. These restored areas can capture carbon, reducing the impact of emissions on the environment.

Bord na Móna plans to transform itself as a supplier of wind, solar and biomass energy over the coming years. As one observer notes, if there's anyone in Bord na Móna thinking about climate action, it's her.

Professor John Fitzgerald, Chair, Climate Change Advisory Council

An independent advisory body, the Climate Change Advisory Council is charged with assessing and advising the Government on how Ireland can become a low carbon economy by 2050. It will help shape the National Adaptation Framework (NAF), which sets out how Ireland will cope and adapt to avoid the worst impacts.

Prof Fitzgerald will have to negotiate difficult waters - he has already told the Government that the NAF will have to set out which bodies or departments are responsible for specific actions, and will have to clarify how necessary research is funded. He has also warned against taking the cheapest option to secure a low-carbon future. Interesting times ahead.

Laura Burke, Director General, Environmental Protection Agency

Head of the environmental watchdog since 2011, Ms Burke is also a member of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

The EPA not only monitors and reports greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental indicators to the European Commission and other international bodies, it is also responsible for analysing whether Ireland is on track to meet its targets.

Crucially, its role also includes building capacity to adapt to climate change, and it funds an extensive research programme to help inform and drive policy. The agency also regulates industrial and waste sites and works to reduce their emissions. Its role also includes communicating climate science, and providing expert and independent scientific advice.

Jim Gannon, CEO, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

The SEAI has a clearly defined goal - help increase energy efficiency to reduce bills and imports of fossil fuels, spearhead the development of low carbon energy sources and support innovation.

These are expensive actions and without Government commitment little progress is possible.

The SEAI has overseen a dramatic roll-out of home energy upgrades in recent years, and works with communities, the public sector, SMEs and large energy users to reduce energy consumption.

It has had a dramatic impact in reducing use of fossil fuels, providing training and building capacity. Gannon will have a crucial role to play over the coming years.

Dr Mary Kelly, Chairperson, An Bord Pleanála

The planning appeals board is charged with ensuring that projects ranging from housing schemes to wind farms comply with the principles of sustainable development. Ms Kelly will have to marry the need for homes and infrastructure, while ensuring that developers are not given carte blanche to build wherever they like.

The board will also take control of permitting large-scale housing schemes of 100 or more units, and will face political pressure to approve developments even if it finds them wanting.

But it has a record of not kow-towing to vested interests. It refused permission for the National Children's Hospital on the Mater site, and last week ruled out a link road in Galway to alleviate chronic congestion on cyclists and pedestrian safety grounds.

Professor John Sweeney, Emeritus Professor of Geography, Maynooth University

John Sweeney is Ireland's best-known climate scientist, with an ability to explain complicated science and setting out what it means to ordinary people.

He is not shy about lambasting government and international inaction.

He has repeatedly warned that despite an increase in extreme weather events, urgency in adapting to climate change has not been demonstrated.

He recently wrote that "solemn obligations" agreed internationally were being "systematically sacrificed on the altar of political expediency".

He contributed to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report setting out the impact of global warming.

The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Dr Lorna Gold, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Trocaire

Dr Gold works on influencing climate policies at home and overseas, and has criticised the Paris Climate Agreement for not doing enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable.

While she acknowledges that the deal has increased political momentum, she has raised concerns about Ireland securing lower emissions targets, saying it was "disheartening" given how many people across developing nations were suffering.

She has spoken about ethical investment, and makes no bones about her frustration with Ireland's position on climate change, saying it is damaging in terms of our standing as good EU citizens, and that our position needs to be "urgently rethought".

Professor Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc

Teagasc is the national body which provides research, advisory and training services to the agriculture, food industry and rural communities, and will play a key role in reducing agriculture emissions.

It works with some 43,000 Irish farmers every year, driving innovation, efficiency and more sustainable forms of production, while helping farmers grow profits and maintain competitiveness.

With ambitious targets to ramp up food production, Teagasc will play a key role in meeting targets while reducing environmental impact. Although starved of funds in recent years, it has driven dramatic change, including driving down the level of emissions per kilo of milk and beef produced. Gerry Boyle is also a member of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

Aidan Cotter, CEO, Bord Bia

Expanding food production while also reducing emissions is a difficult proposition, and Bord Bia's 'Origin Green' programme aims to make Ireland a world leader in sustainably produced food and drink.

Origin Green requires firms and farms to be audited and switch to least-environmentally damaging methods of production. Some 500 food and drink companies have signed up, and more than half of dairy and 90pc of beef comes from accredited farms. The scheme is supported by Teagasc.

The programme has a commercial imperative - by improving efficiency, costs are lowered and profits are improved.

Dr Cara Augustenborg, Chairperson, Friends of the Earth Ireland

An environmental scientist, lecturer and media pundit, the Irish-American was Ireland's first leader under Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and blogs at 'The Verdant Yank'.

An outspoken chair of Friends of the Earth Ireland, she has repeatedly criticised the Government for its failure to act on climate change, noting that despite agreement to move to a low-carbon economy, the Government's actions move us in the opposite direction.

She has said that every political party should be 'green', and has spoken about the need to raise awareness about climate change to help drive the transition.

Paul Kenny, CEO, Tipperary Energy Agency

A champion of new technologies and renewables, Kenny was involved in developing Ireland's first community-owned wind farm at Templederry and is also involved in retrofitting homes, upgrading heating systems in local authority facilities including swimming pools, replacing public lighting and working with community groups.

Kenny is pushing for local energy projects to be developed across the country, where power is generated and used in the community, with any excess sold on to the national grid. The agency was heavily involved in a major project to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels across nine Tipperary County Council buildings, which will reduce energy demand by 11pc. While he thinks big, he acts local.

Paul Harris, Head of Natural Resources Risk Management, Bank of Ireland

Described as a 'dynamo', Paul Harris works to drive investment in low carbon finance.

"He can put the economic argument. He says the money is all in sustainability, and to stop investing in oil," one admirer says.

Involved in developing a postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Energy Finance at Dublin City University, he has previously noted that many investors are ignoring climate change.

"This approach is myopic and unsustainable, and it's a huge challenge to try and turn this juggernaut around," he told a conference last year.

He has suggested that companies should be obliged to set out their carbon footprint, and highlight the climate risk of investments they manage.

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