Tuesday 23 May 2017, Mansion House, Dublin
Many thanks, Elaine. Good afternoon and thank you for giving me the opportunity to visit with you all here today at the ECO UNESCO Young Environmentalist Awards.
The energy in this room that a combination of youth, passion and optimism invariably creates is palpable.
Surrounded by so many young people here brings the senseless horrific tragedy in Manchester very clearly to the forefront of my mind this afternoon. The lives of so many young people have been brutally taken in the blink of an eye. A book of condolences will be opened here at the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor tomorrow. I am sure the people of Dublin and beyond will show their solidarity with the people of Manchester in their thousands.
Meeting young people like yourselves invariably makes me optimistic about how we deal with climate change and our environment.
I am really impressed with the projects that I have seen here today so far.
You, as Young Environmentalists understand better than most, that this world and our living environment is our 'life support system'.
There is no doubt that climate change is the single biggest challenge facing us all now and in spite of your age you are playing a significant part in how we as a country try to deal with climate change. Ireland is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the impacts are serious: more storms; rising sea levels and changing weather.
Your projects are really inspiring so well done – you are Ireland's Transition Generation – the way you live today will have huge effects on future generations. You are breaking new ground and you should be very proud of yourselves and your ideas and commitment to tackling climate change and teaching us how to be better citizens.
Ireland relies on high emission, and imported fossil fuels to meet over 88% of our energy needs. This costs half a million every hour. That's a cost that we cannot afford in cash, in which our planet cannot afford at all.
Energy efficiency is central to the Government's plan. Energy and climate action are inextricably linked. This is because using less energy, and using it more efficiently, is the most cost-effective and accessible way to tackle climate change.
I recently launched the National Dialogue on Climate Action which directly engages with people and in particular young people, on issues ranging from future energy solutions in Ireland, to the sustainable development goals.
Looking through the list of projects around us here, I can see that the topics which you explored were well chosen, and point the way forward.
Air quality and clean air will be central to how we deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Four people a day die from poor air quality in this country and one in five children have asthma.
On a practical level we can all reduce our carbon footprint by taking more steps - actually about 1,200 steps - because today I'm asking you and your mums and dads and teachers to think about how you get to school or how you get home from school. If you're driven to school think about walking the last 10 minutes of your journey and how this could make a difference.
I want to go further to ask the entire country to walk the last 10 minutes of any journey we're taking - not just the school run but to work, to college, to sporting events.
Recycling and buying more locally produced food which will help reduce the amount of food and consumer goods that need to be moved long distances is another step we could all take to help save our planet and reduce food waste particularly.
Did you know that on average a family throws away more than 700 euro worth of food every year. Imagine 700 euro of food gone in the bin due to buying more than what's needed in the first place.
Today through your excellent projects you have shown how we can all make simple practical changes to our behaviour to save energy and make a difference.
I want to ask you to keep up the great work, you are a truly impressive group of young people who are setting an example to others. You are leaders. You are Ireland's transition generation.
Go raibh maith agaibh.