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Opening Statement at Initiation of Domestic Ratification process for Paris Agreement

A Ceann Comhairle,


Today has the potential to be a turning point, which in hindsight will be seen as the advent of major cultural, political and technological change in our country. 


I use the word 'potential' purposely. Agreements may be the prelude to actions, but they are not the deeds themselves. 


This agreement - the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – has the potential to build on progress. It is the basis for doing more and for allowing communities here, in concert with countries around the world take the decisive actions which ultimately safeguard our shared future on this planet. 


The word 'global' in global warming, accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying the threat facing our planet. It is also in its vastness, potentially daunting, even discouraging. How can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference? How can any one of us, meaningfully contribute? 

 

It is the task of politics, it is the task I intend to apply myself to, to bridge the chasm between global challenge and national responsibility, and between Ireland's obligation and every single citizen's responsibilities. It may be a tired truism that you can't change the world. On climate change, it is a pressing fact that the world will not change without you. 


On the international stage the response is evident within the European Union and the United Nations. Ireland has been, and Ireland pledges to remain, a highly active participant within both arenas. The Paris Agreement, before the House today, was adopted last December. It is the result of unprecedented engagement by governments around the world. It sets out a global action plan to put our planet on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It is not just a blueprint for the future, it is the best hope for any future at all. If that sounds apocalyptic; it is fact. 


Climate change is decades old.  Its causes are deeply embedded in our way of life. Sustaining what we know as familiar, against detrimental change that has already begun and is wreaking a cost in Ireland already, requires that we change, before climate change, changes everything irrevocably. 


As the first minister for Climate Action, though not the first to be deeply concerned about this issue, I want to acknowledge the drive and political will in the run-up to Paris in 2015 that enabled 195 countries to reach this first ever legally binding global climate agreement. Given the complexities, given the challenges, this agreement is a significant political development. 

 

Politically, and this is important, the level of ambition remains just as strong as we head to Marrakesh next month for the next meeting of the global community on Climate Change when the Paris Agreement will enter into force. What counts now, is continuity and continued momentum. 

 

That I am here today, less than one year after the Paris Agreement was negotiated, to present this agreement for ratification by Dáil Éireann, in accordance with our constitution, is evidence of that ambition. It is evidence too of my determination as Minister to drive this process forward, here at home.  


The world cannot meaningfully address climate change without the leadership and the participation of the European Union. The European Union cannot lead or deliver without the full participation of the member states. Ireland as a member state cannot meet its obligation, without the participation and commitment of all our people and every sector of our society. That will not be forthcoming, nor can it be organised, without effective political leadership. That leadership must begin with government and with me as minister. But the leadership required, for a task as life changing and life enhancing as this, is broader.  On climate change, it is a fact that the world will not change without you and neither will Ireland. 


The ambition and the commitment of the Paris Agreement is, I hope, soon to be affirmed by the formal ratification of Dáil Éireann. Then we will have embraced irrevocable commitments in principle, to act in concert with our fellow members of the European Union, to deliver on the specific targets to be agreed in detail. The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. Our contribution, yet to be agreed, will undoubtedly present significant challenges. 

 

For Ireland however I want to stress again that despite such challenges we are committed to playing our role. This is the turning point of which I spoke at the outset. It is the major cultural, political and technological advances required to tackle climate change. 


The Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the importance of meeting these challenges. As Minister for Climate Action I am fully committed to prioritising climate change as a policy area requiring radical and ambitious action. 


In Budget 2017 a significant start has been made and more than €100m will be invested on energy projects which will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions every year. These will support around 3,000 jobs, and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels. €7m is being allocated to kick start a new Renewable Heat Incentive and the Biofuels industry.  More energy efficient homes mean people spend less money on energy, enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle in their own homes and gain improved health benefits, which in turn takes pressure off our health services. 


A National Dialogue on Climate Change will be the basis for a concerted conversation, and I hope, a consensus, on the major cultural, political and technological advances to tackle climate change. 

 

Nothing already in train provides a simple answer. But what is planned underpins the political commitment of which I spoke. Now, our challenge will be to do more. 

 

Here in Ireland we might be inclined to think we are immune. But make no mistake Ireland's climate is already changing too. Winters will become wetter and summers drier. We may see milder winter temperatures benefitting certain sections of the community, however this will be offset by the potential for heatwaves during summer. Rising seas will also increase the risk of coastal inundation. Storm surge events may increase in frequency; there is likely to be increased flows to our river catchments with obvious consequences for flooding. I know no one in this House requires reminding of the consequences. Let us be clear: the potential impacts for Ireland are serious. They have already partially arrived. 


Energy and Climate Action are inextricably linked. Using less energy, and using it more efficiently, is the most cost effective and accessible way for us all to take action on climate change.  Here in Ireland, Cork is leading the way.  According to the last census there are nearly 200,000 households across Cork city and county, and already almost one in four of these homes have received a Government supported energy efficiency upgrade.

 

So global issues almost too huge to grasp, can be distributed as opportunity and as obligation, one household, one business, one country at a time, across the world. This is the political action that is required. This is the obligation the Paris Agreement will bind us to, when brought into force on November 4th


The Agreement reflects our own prioritisation of tackling the negative effects of climate change through our National Policy Position of 2014 and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. These policy and legislative structures are driving the significant increases in expenditure on Climate Action Measures that I have outlined and which extend to health, to energy management in the public sector and to low carbon measures in the Agriculture sector.


Our first National Mitigation Plan will be published for consultation before the end of the year. It will build on these measures year by year. It will specify the pathway Ireland will pursue to achieve a low carbon future. Our National Adaptation Frameworks will set out the strategy for how we adapt to the impacts of Climate Change including adaptation measures in different sectors such as local authorities.


The scale of global activity to bring the Agreement into force has been hugely impressive. The United States, China and India have all ratified; the EU and ten of its member states are also across the line with others soon to follow. A total of 83 Parties or countries have now ratified. I am travelling to Marrakesh in a couple of weeks as Head of the Irish delegation when the Paris Agreement will enter into force. I am counting on the support, the goodwill and the ambition of all members of the Dáil to be able to announce one more country to that list. 


Today is not a conclusion. It is the beginning. It is the beginning of new obligations and of new opportunities. On climate change, we must collaborate with each other and Ireland must collaborate with the world.


On climate change, we must change dramatically, if there is any hope at all, for things to stay the same.


I commend the Agreement to the house.

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