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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, at the launch of the Government’s Climate Plan, Grangegorman

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Ministers, members of the press, dear friends. For my generation, the greatest fear growing up was that the world would be destroyed in a mutually assured nuclear Armageddon.  We lived through the Cold War and witnessed Chernobyl. It was a real threat and a clear and present danger. But, it didn’t happen. Hope defeated fear. The Cold War ended and peace prevailed. Growing up, for us, the biggest environmental concerns were acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer.  These were real threats not scare stories.  And action was taken, on a global scale, and our fears were conquered.  For young people growing up today, one of their greatest fears is that the world will be destroyed in a climate apocalypse.It doesn’t have to happen. It’s not inevitable. It can be stopped. Action can be taken. And today, we say it will. It must happen at every level - the individual, the household, the business and government. Our objective is to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions by 2% a year for the next ten years.We are behind, but we are catching up, and now we need to do so much faster. The plan we are launching today is the roadmap for us to follow in doing exactly that. It’s about sensible climate action. 

And so, as a Government, we will support and drive forward Climate Actions that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions because that’s what we need to do to save our planet as well as climate actions that will give us warmer homes, cleaner air, better quality of life - climate actions that will create the jobs and businesses of the future. At the same time we will not support Climate Actions that make people poorer, cost jobs or make us less secure or don’t actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  There is a balance to be struck and I believe that this plan does exactly that. When many people talk about climate change, they do so with predictions of doom and destruction, even extinction. If no action is taken, they might even be proven right. But I like to see climate action as opportunity. It’s not about upending the system. It’s about changing the system. Adapting, reforming and modernising. A climate revolution a bit like the digital, industrial and agricultural revolutions that went before it. The next stage of human development. And climate action presents enormous opportunities. New jobs and new business and new wealth created through renewable energy, building insulation and forestry. Reduced imports of fossil fuels and maybe even the possibility of Ireland becoming an electricity exporter. New markets for food produced sustainably, the lowest carbon footprint and the highest animal welfare standards. Today’s Climate Plan is bold and ambitious. It does not seek to claim the moral high ground nor to signal virtue. It does not search for the middle ground.  Instead it aims to create common ground on Climate Action, a platform that we can all build on as it is implemented and revised each year. Common ground that is serious, effective and sensible.It responds to the idealism that we have seen from our young people in recent weeks and months and provides the realism to enable far-reaching changes to be made, with a transition that is planned, and fair, so nobody feels left behind. So, I believe, this is a day for hope and some optimism.  We are going to change how electricity is produced and consumed, how our homes and workplaces are heated; the way we travel; the types of vehicles we purchase, and how food is produced. It’s about vibrant, populated city centres, liveable, with excellent amenities and transport as we embrace higher densities. A greener and diversified agricultural and agrifood sector producing high quality, traceable food sustainably in the most carbon efficient manner possible – as is ever more demanded by the consumers who we produce food for.

Above all, we are going to decouple emissions growth from economic growth.To ensure this plan is realised, my Department, the Department of the Taoiseach, is establishing a Climate Action Delivery Board to oversee implementation; and we will work very closely with all our colleagues across Government to take these actions.In our Constitution we boldly proclaim ourselves to be a country devoted ‘to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.’ We will reaffirm the truth of that commitment by meeting our carbon reductions obligations in the years ahead and integrating climate action and biodiversity into our international development and foreign policies. As I have said before, I believe the greatest responsibility we have is to pass on our planet to the next generation in a better condition than we inherited it.With today’s Plan we are making changes now, before it is too late, to ensure we do exactly that.    We recognise that Government doesn’t have all the answers.  So we will work with people, industry and communities to chart the best and most inclusive way forward. A way forward that is both effective and sensible. One that achieves our targets, and in a way that is thought-through and considered, supports employment and living standards and enables a just transition. Our approach will be to nudge people and businesses to change behaviour and adapt new technologies through incentives, disincentives, regulations and information.   Our objective, as we plan for the future, is to transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society. I want to commend Minister Richard Bruton for taking the lead on this Plan and for working with colleagues in every Department to create a joined-up Government response. This Plan represents the sum of our hopes for the future.  Our call to action in the fight to save our planet.  

Thank You.