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Bringing public along on climate goals needs skill


US climate envoy John Kerry Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapan/ Reuters

US climate envoy John Kerry Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapan/ Reuters

US climate envoy John Kerry Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapan/ Reuters

Fossil fuel firms are being relegated in status at the COP26 climate summit, appropriately starting on Halloween.

International governments are finally cottoning on to what environmentalist have been warning all along: that the big oil firms’ emissions reduction plans don’t add up. Hence the fossil fuel firms have no official status at the event.

COP26 is the latest stock-take on progress in addressing climate change and setting further targets. The abbreviated title of the UN climate change conference stands for Conference of the Parties 26, with the “26” referencing the conference’s 26th meeting. The temperature is already rising ahead of the Glasgow conference. US climate envoy John Kerry has warned the summit is the “last best hope for the world to get its act together”. Glasgow is the effective deadline for countries to bring forward more ambitious national climate plans under the global Paris climate treaty.

Needless to say, countries and companies that produce large amounts of emissions are lobbying hard to water down UN climate reports, which contain recommendations that the world needs to phase out fossil fuels. It’s like the dinosaurs arguing against the ice age. Australia, China, Saudi Arabia and India are among the nations to have made submissions to a panel of scientists urging them to remove key phrases or downplay the need to switch away from fossil fuels. Ahead of the conference, a leak of documents suggests that behind the scenes many of the biggest polluters are attempting to limit the scope of future climate targets.

The aim is to hold the rise in the Earth’s temperature to 1.5C. Scientists say this will require global carbon emissions to fall by 45pc from 2010 levels by the end of this decade. Nine years to save the planet. Apart from a brief period during Covid-19 lockdowns, emissions are still rising globally.

Ireland isn’t in the big leagues when it comes to emissions but that doesn’t mean we can skip our obligations to make a contribution. Emissions fell less in lockdown-laden 2020, when many activities were hit by restrictions, than free-and-easy 2019. Under EU law, Ireland was to cut emissions by 20pc by 2020 compared to 2005. The latest figures show a cut of just 7pc was achieved.

Total emissions fell by just 3.6pc in 2020 – half the reduction required annually for the rest of this decade. That was below the 4pc reduction achieved in pre-pandemic 2019 when the economy was in full flight and social activities were unconstrained. And agricultural emissions rose by 1.4pc, with the numbers of dairy cows, cattle, sheep and pig numbers all higher than in 2019 and an increase in the use of nitrogen fertilisers.

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The Climate Act establishes our requirements to reduce emissions by law. The ambitious targets have been criticised as not just over-ambitious, but lacking reality. The lack of communication with the public about the progress in putting sectoral targets in place – in other words what needs to be done by people in each area – is quite striking.

Battling the big polluters is a tough task, bringing the public along requires political skill, which so far is lacking from our Government.

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