Sunday 25 September 2016

Paul Melia: Every one of us is going to be affected by climate deal

Environment Editor Paul Melia explains what this deal will mean for us

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Enda Kenny at COP21
Enda Kenny at COP21

The Paris Agreement will have wide-reaching implications not only for the well-being of the planet but for business, households and governments.

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Business as usual is no option. The deal means that countries, big and small, developed or developing, will have to radically transform their economic models and consumption patterns to bring about decarbonisation over the coming decades.

This is a profound shift in thinking, and the only fear is that it is too little too late. Average global temperatures have risen 1C over the past century, and levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere are at their highest in 800,000 years.

The deal is a good one for the planet, which the deal notes is referred to by some cultures as Mother Earth. By committing to long-term ambitious targets, we may yet avoid the worst ravages of global warming.

Countries have committed to provide $100bn (€91bn) to developing nations from 2020, and this will create business opportunities. As the We Mean Business group noted, "it will take billions to unlock the trillions".

It sends a positive signal on where investment should be focused in the coming years. With a global commitment to clean energy and renewables, it means investment in fossil fuels should reduce. Oil, gas and coal companies can expect to see their values fall.

But the deal also sends a signal on future employment and manufacturing opportunities. As the world moves to renewables, including wind, electricity grids will have to be adapted to deal with an intermittent power source.

Employers group Ibec noted that more ambitious cuts would be delivered as low-carbon solutions were developed and as the green economy grows.

The agreement will require concerted action by the Irish Government to move to the new world order, and will test the wit and ambition of whichever party takes office after the General Election.

It will have to commit to long-term strategic thinking, and in particular explore how electricity production will be ramped-up without using fossil fuels. This is because electricity will play a major role in decarbonising the economy, but it will have to be from green sources such as wind, wave, tidal and solar.

Given that the polluter-pays principle is a key part of environmental policy, both at national and international level, the Government will also have to make unpopular choices.

Motorists already pay a carbon tax on fuels, but there is nothing in place for food production, which is a major source of emissions. Will we see a government introduce a carbon tax on food producers, or slap a levy on a burger to encourage less meat-eating?

For the consumer, there will be profound changes. We will have to look at dramatically increasing deployment of electric vehicles and remove ourselves from our car and switch to public transport.

Buses will have to be hybrid-electric and train lines electrified. We will have to look at the quality of houses we build and where we build them.

There are many reasons to be positive about the changes. There is no shortage of solutions already out there that can be immediately implemented, and children are already learning about sustainable living, with 97pc of schools involved in the Green Schools Programme.

We face EU sanctions if we don't reach our 2020 targets, which require a 20pc cut in emissions. They are rapidly accelerating too - it's 40pc by 2030, 60pc by 2040 and 80 to 95pc by 2050, so time for action.

Sunday Independent

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