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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Launch of the First Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan 2019

Check Against Delivery 

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

The poet Eavan Boland was inspired by these surroundings to write about the power of nature and the lessons we could learn from it. Diverse plants living together in a confined space showed us something new, meaning we could, perhaps, ‘sense in the Botanic Gardens, terms of reference’.  

So this is an appropriate spot to meet to launch the First Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan.

Since launching the Plan in June we have followed it up with actions.

At the United Nations Climate Action Summit I announced that we will phase out exploration for oil in Irish offshore waters. It was a victory for the environment because drilling causes massive destruction, regardless of whether oil is discovered or not. It also sets down a marker, we’ll be out of fossil fuels by 2050 starting with oil, coal and peat.

We secured over half a billion euro in EU funding for the Celtic Interconnector.  This vital piece of infrastructure will help to lower electricity prices, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide greater energy security. It will allow us to sell wind energy to Europe when we have surplus and import it and solar when we don’t.

In Budget 2020 we set forth on a decade long and irreversible journey away from fossil fuels to renewables.

The Climate Action Plan set-out a long-term trajectory to 2030 for a carbon tax and with Budget 2020 we took the first steps to achieving it.

Over the next decade, over €6 billion will be raised in this way.

All new revenue from the carbon tax will be ring-fenced to fund new climate action and just transition. Just transition will help to protect those most exposed to higher fuel and energy costs and for whom new jobs must be found to shift from carbon-intensive industries.

So a lot has been achieved since June, but there is more to do.

Today’s Report reveals that we have delivered on 85% of its actions on schedule, so we have to think about the 15% and in particular on the actions we have committed to deliver in the coming months.   

Our Greenhouse gas emissions are down two years in a row, as we have moved from burning coal for electricity in favour of wind and natural gas.   This is good, but emissions are not falling fast enough. Not nearly! Implementation of this Plan will ensure that they will.

For the Climate Action Plan to succeed it must be organic and it must hold people to account.  

Today we show how both objectives will be achieved.  

A Climate Action Delivery Board has been established within my Department.  It is Chaired by the Secretary General to the Government to ensure the coordinated, timely and effective implementation of actions in the Plan.  

The Board will hold each Government Department and public body to account.  

Part of its mission is to ensure that the Plan responds to changes in best practice, as well as to new developments in science, technology and society. This makes the Action Plan a living document, growing and evolving all the time.

The greatest reason for the failure to deliver climate action of the scale needed to date has been the absence of sectoral accountability. It has always been someone else’s problem.

The Climate Action Plan took the first step to removing this flaw by setting out what each sector needs to do over the next decade. The forthcoming Climate Action Bill will take the next step and provide for sectoral carbon budgets with penalties for non-delivery. The old way of doing things has not worked so we are creating a new framework.

Everyone has their part to play in solving the climate crisis. No sector, business or home will be untouched. We must work together to achieve a greener, more prosperous, more sustainable and safer future.

Implementing the Climate Action Plan will bring about positive environmental gain and also generate economic, social, and health benefits for all of society.

We will have warmer homes, cleaner air, more secure energy sources, green jobs, green business, new wealth, better transport, resilient communities, new recreational spaces and healthier lifestyles.  

We will transform our landscape – more forests, agricultural diversification and peatlands restoration.  

And we will avoid ‘the peril of unconsciousness’ that Boland warned about in her poem. But we need to act now. With the Climate Action Plan we know what needs to be done. With today’s progress report – and with more to follow – we are making ourselves accountable to ensure it is done.

So, working together I believe we can replace Climate Fear and Anxiety with a new Climate of Action and Opportunity.

Thank you.