Ireland's first ever environmental foundation set up by a private company got a high level and passionate endorsement yesterday from former US president Bill Clinton at a ceremony in New York.
Mr Clinton, a major campaigner on climate change, told guests of NTR Plc, which is setting up the foundation, that only economic arguments will ultimately win the day on the climate change debate. He was speaking at the University Club in Manhattan.
NTR is using money built up over recent years from the sale of assets like Airtricity to invest in projects and research that are tied to renewable energy. This is the first foundation headquartered in Ireland which will specifically spend money on the environment.
"We've got to prove this is good economics," said Mr Clinton. He said unemployment among US construction workers was 24pc and the only real way to tackle this was to retro-fit houses and make them more energy efficient.
"The only way we can put these contractors back to work is energy efficiency," he said. He said renewable energy companies were in a "lucky" position because they could make money while saving the planet.
"We cannot prevail in the larger struggle to save the planet, unless we can prove its good economics," he said.
Landing a high profile speaker like Mr Clinton was something of a coup for NTR, which until recent years made most of its money from tolling roads. It is now the most active Irish renewable energy operation in the US, along with Eddie O'Connor's Mainstream Power.
Mr Clinton said companies like NTR were showing that profits were possible from technologies that could stop the planet heating up. But those who denied climate change still had to be beaten in argument, he said. "Defend the science, but argue the economics," he told the audience.
"Some people still believe you cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions and still grow the economy,'' he said, adding that China was slowly turning its back on this view.
He was speaking as NTR announced that its NTR Foundation is now up and running. This philanthropic organisation contains about €20m in cash and NTR stock, and is seeking to provide money to deserving not-for-profit projects across the world in the areas of renewable energy and climate change.
Over the next five years the foundation intends to spend most of these resources on what it calls "venture philanthropy".
Meanwhile speaking earlier to the Irish Independent Jim Barry, NTR chief executive, said it was likely the company's toll road business in Ireland would be disposed of later this year.