Wednesday 16 October 2019

'We will phase out exploration for oil off coast', Taoiseach tells UN

But Varadkar admits Ireland will continue extracting natural gas 'for now'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Cormac McQuinn in New York

Ireland will end oil exploration off the coast with an initial moratorium in 80pc of Irish waters, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told a major United Nations summit.

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg opened the UN Climate Action Summit with an angry condemnation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change.

"How dare you," she told delegates assembled at UN headquarters in New York.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres had warned governments they would have to offer action plans to qualify to speak at the summit.

In his opening remarks, he tried to capture the urgency of climate change and called out the fossil fuel industry.

"Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature... and around the world nature is striking back with fury," Mr Guterres said.

In his contribution, Mr Varadkar outlined Ireland's Climate Action Plan and told world leaders there s a chance to replace a climate of "fear and anxiety" with a climate of "action and opportunity".

Mr Varadkar announced Ireland's intention to end oil exploration off its coast.

He said initially this would mean a moratorium on exploration in 80pc of Irish waters, but did not say when it would apply across the board.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland's Climate Change Advisory Council recommended exploration for natural gas should continue "for now".

He said this was because it was "a transition fuel which we will need for decades as alternatives are developed and fully deployed".

Mr Varadkar also told of plans to ring-fence the proceeds of increased carbon tax revenues for efforts to fight global warming.

He spoke of how Ireland would plant 440 million trees, remove coal power by 2025, and increase generation by renewable sources to 70pc in the next decade.

The Taoiseach said leadership was required to take action and also needed to convince our people that it was not too late to act.

"We've all been inspired by children and young people who have embraced this cause and put it at the top of our agenda," he said.

Hypocrisy

The Green Party welcomed the announcement oil exploration is to stop, but argued that efforts to find natural gas must be ended as well.

Its climate spokesperson David Healy, a councillor, said: "Gas is a fossil fuel and its extraction and use will contribute to climate breakdown.

"There is no guarantee that gas extracted in Irish waters will contribute to energy security here and will most likely be exported."

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith accused the Government of "hypocrisy" on the world stage over the climate emergency.

She hit out at plans for increased carbon taxes and claimed the Government's action on tackling climate change "goes up in smoke when you look at what they are actually doing".

She referred to the blocking of her legislation to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said Mr Varadkar's remarks on oil exploration "sent an important signal to investors that Ireland accepts the majority of fossil fuels have to stay in the ground if we are to contain climate change". But he also called for the phasing out of gas exploration as well.

The Irish Offshore Operators' Association (IOOA) said it was looking forward to seeing the full details of the Government's plans for ending oil exploration.

Irish Independent

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