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Richest nations must lead fight against climate change



Climate activist Greta Thunberg joins a protest in London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Climate activist Greta Thunberg joins a protest in London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Climate activist Greta Thunberg joins a protest in London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, this week is being billed as a final opportunity for the world’s nations to agree a measurable plan to arrest and reverse the calamitous climate emergency. That much is true. We have, or are about to, run out of time.

The climate emergency is the greatest crisis faced by mankind. We have known for some time as we were warned about it decades ago. Since then action plans laden with targets have come and gone, yet the crisis has worsened. Much hot air has been expended by world leaders on targets, in the absence of measurable policy.

It has been, in the recent memorable analysis of the climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, a lot of: “Blah, bah, blah.” So Glasgow will be the ultimate test. What is needed is credible policy that will pass scrutiny to reduce emissions and lead to a carbon-neutral world by 2050.

Ireland has a role to play but cannot act in isolation. This is a global crisis that requires a global response, and the world’s richest countries must take the lead.

The primary objective of COP26 is to move the world as low as possible within an already-agreed emissions target band: a limit of a rise of 1.5C is considered the safest climate landing-zone that humanity might still reach. According to accepted analysis, action by the G20 countries alone could limit warming to 1.7C.

For its part, Ireland has committed to transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy by 2050. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions are needed to honour that commitment. To help achieve it, legislation has been introduced to provide for the establishment of carbon budgets.

Carbon budgets will require transformational changes for society and the economy, where emissions are balanced or exceeded by 2050. A reduction of 51pc in the total amount of emissions by 2030, relative to 2018, is needed. This is a huge challenge, which must be met.

To achieve it, emissions reduction from the agriculture sector will be necessary. Across the EU, agriculture accounts for about 11pc of total emissions. But in Ireland, agriculture accounts for more than 32pc of total emissions. This is mostly due to the number of cattle in relation to the population.

Approximately 93pc of Irish methane emissions come from livestock-based agriculture. The debate here should not be confined to the agriculture sector, however. Now is not a time to demonise farmers, custodians of the land.

Farm leaders have said agriculture will play its part. It is widely accepted that compensation will be required to ease what will be a difficult but necessary transition.

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In this newspaper today, columnist Colm McCarthy also makes a persuasive argument: emissions from petrol or diesel consumed in Ireland are not attributed to oil-producing Saudi Arabia; yet consumers of Irish dairy products in G20 nations can enjoy the butter and cheese secure in the knowledge the emissions are Ireland’s problem.

Irish agriculture has a significant role to play but so does global society, particularly in the world’s richest nations. 

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