Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
It is a genuine pleasure to be here today to publish our new Bill on Climate Action.
Climate Change is the defining, existential challenge of our time. It requires a fundamental examination of how we organise our affairs and how we live our lives.
Governments all over the world face a choice. They either confront this fact and move now to deal with it; or they turn away, deny the reality that is in front of them and just postpone the decisions that are necessary.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated, climate change is moving faster than the world’s response is.
However, this afternoon, I am proud to say that the Government of Ireland chooses action.
We choose to confront the reality of Climate Change and move now, through this Bill, to establish in law the path towards climate neutrality for our country.
There is still time to avoid the worst outcomes of this crisis. That is why leadership, and the ambition to do what needs to be done to combat climate change and the loss of biodiversity is more important now than ever, and why it is a central pillar of the Programme for Government.
Cross-Party Action/Pre-Legislative Scrutiny
We often talk about the importance of an all-of-Government approach to dealing with complex problems. However, the scale and scope of the climate crisis requires an all-of-country approach.
That is one of the reasons why cross-party engagement and support will be absolutely vital to tackling climate action, overcoming the challenges and embracing the opportunities that a transition to climate neutrality, will bring.
I would like to thank the Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, Deputy Brian Leddin, all his colleagues in the Committee and the many witnesses who engaged in the pre-legislative scrutiny process on this Bill.
The Committee made this their top priority and produced a comprehensive set of recommendations - of which the vast majority have been reflected in the updated Bill.
Through their hard work and commitment, the Committee has shown the value of not only the process itself, but also the value of genuine, constructive, good faith cross party engagement.
The Bill published today sets out a legally binding commitment to achieve a climate neutral economy by 2050.
It lays the foundations of a path towards an Ireland that is climate resilient, rich in biodiversity and environmentally
sustainable- A safer and healthier Ireland.
Fully embracing this challenge also presents economic opportunities.
Transitioning to low carbon will create tens of thousands of new “green” jobs in construction stemming from the need to retrofit existing homes, commercial and public buildings; in renewable energy industries, in “green tourism, in research and development, and in sustainable finance.
Recent work by the ESRI also suggests increases in employment demand in agriculture, education, health, and public administration as a result of this transition.
Meeting the needs of this emerging economy will require new skills and modern, responsive and employer led apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. That’s why we have ambitious targets to increase the total number of new apprenticeship registrations over the next five years.
That is not to say there won’t be profound challenges for some sectors of our economy. Ensuring a Just Transition is a central component of our approach, supporting workers, sectors, and regions most exposed, and engaging with workers from disrupted sectors and regions to guide them towards education, retraining and employment opportunities.
While this Bill establishes a long term target, the fact is that the next decade is critical if we are to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and so we have now also included an interim target to reduce emissions by 51% by 2030, to ensure we are on the right track.
By putting these requirements in legislation, by hard-wiring these commitments in law, we are demonstrating the Irish Government’s clear commitment to climate action.
The Bill sets a statutory framework which will guide our climate plans and strategies of the future and ensure that they enable us meet our targets.
The legally binding targets demonstrate our firm commitment to tackling climate change, but I am also very conscious of the need for prompt implementation of policy change.
Taken together- this twin focus on implementation of the necessary policies, with a strengthened legislative framework will ensure that Ireland can deliver.
We have already made good progress with the Climate Action Plan 2019. The Q4 Progress Report published today shows 78% of measures due by end 2020, were completed. The Interim Climate Actions also published today will continue that momentum and ensure that across all Government departments we keep the focus on implementation while the next iteration of the Climate Action Plan is developed.
My own Department will continue to monitor and report on progress made under the Interim Climate Actions and annual Climate Action Plans.
It is only through a full and successful realisation and implementation of these plans and strategies that Ireland can move past our previous Climate failures and reach our goal of being climate neutral by 2050.
This is an important moment. The Bill we are publishing today is an important milestone and a positive step forward for Ireland and the delivery of the climate agenda.
But I am conscious that it is also just the start of the next chapter of Ireland’s climate change story.
It is a critical step toward a more sustainable society and economy for our people, and will help us play our part in building a better, shared future for all.
Over the course of the last year, the Irish people have been forced to draw on our deepest reserves of strength, resilience and patience.
As we have absorbed the unprecedented grief and disruption of the pandemic, we have also demonstrated an unprecedented spirit of solidarity and determination. Even as we have dealt with the hardship, we have discovered new things about ourselves and rediscovered our communities and our environment.
If we can come through this, which I know we will, I have absolutely no doubt that we can meet the challenge of the climate and biodiversity crisis.
And in so doing, I know that we will reap the economic and social benefits of the great innovation, investment and change that it requires.