Friday 18 October 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'Let's hope Greta wasn't watching as the big guns used for UN bid'


United Nations Building in New York. Picture: Doug Armand
United Nations Building in New York. Picture: Doug Armand
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

President Michael D Higgins, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and three Cabinet ministers are in New York this week for United Nations meetings.

A conservative estimate for the environmental impact of these six travelling dignitaries alone is more than five tonnes of carbon. That's based on economy class seats - which they surely won't all be enduring - and doesn't include flights for various officials and minders.

Add in the fuel used for the Irish Naval Service vessel, the LÉ Samuel Beckett, which is crossing the Atlantic, and it's safe to say the carbon footprint of this massive diplomatic mission will be far higher than the 13-tonnes-a-year of emissions caused by the average Irish person.

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It's just as well they're not just travelling for the UN's Climate Action Summit where delegates have heard from Swedish teen and climate change activist Greta Thunberg (who travelled by racing yacht).

Brexit, efforts to crack down on online terror, the drive for sustainable international development and universal healthcare will also be discussed in New York.

And throughout it all, Irish dignitaries will be on an all-out diplomatic offensive as part of the bid to win a UN Security Council seat from 2021 to 2022.

The campaign was officially kicked off with a U2 concert in New York in 2018 and this week's General Assembly will be the last big gathering of world leaders at the UN before the vote next year. Ireland faces stiff competition from Canada and Norway.

The President will be holding bilateral meetings with other heads of state and government to press Ireland's case for a seat.

There will be a UN-related event on board the LÉ Samuel Beckett before it sails on for engagements with the diaspora in Boston, and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone is also in New York having been appointed as the special envoy for Ireland's candidature for the UN Security Council seat.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has several meetings lined up and Communications Minister Richard Bruton and Health Minister Simon Harris are also likely to be under instructions to make the case with their international counterparts.

Leo Varadkar's engagements start today when he will address the Climate Action Summit.

Later he attends a dialogue with leaders like New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern on the Christchurch Call to Action initiative aimed at cracking down on the use of social media platforms to spread hate and terror. Tomorrow is expected to see Mr Varadkar's meeting with Boris Johnson.

Mr Varadkar will travel on to Los Angeles later this week for a trade mission aimed at boosting Ireland's film industry, adding yet more burnt aviation fuel to the carbon footprint to the extensive excursion.

One thing they'll all be hoping is that the major push to win a seat on the UN Security Council and new investment will amount to more than a lot of diplomatic hot air.

Irish Independent

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