ADDRESS BY ALEX WHITE, T.D., MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES, AT
IIEA/ESB Energy Future Event
"Energy: A Period of Transition"
18th September 2015
Good morning ladies, gentlemen and distinguished guests. Welcome to Dublin's Mansion House.
I want to thank the IIEA and ESB for inviting me to join this innovative and important event, and also to thank Helen Donohue for chairing the proceedings.
I want particularly to welcome our distinguished guest, VP Šefčovič, and thank him for his inspirational address and for his commitment to delivering EU energy union. This is a commitment that Ireland emphatically shares.
The purpose of today's event is to bring together national and international thinkers and doers –policymakers, stakeholders and industry figures – to discuss the quite dramatic changes underway in the energy sector.
We have seen monumental events including the shale gas revolution in the USA, the gas crisis in Ukraine, and huge reductions in global petroleum extraction investment following the collapse in oil prices. These have significantly altered the policy context in ways that could not have been predicted even a few short years ago.
Less visible, but potentially more far-reaching developments are underway with the convergence of energy and ICT. And, of course, all these developments are accompanied by an urgent and accelerating drive for sustainability.
These changes present major challenges, but they also herald significant opportunities for citizens, consumers and policymakers – and for utilities and businesses.
VP Šefčovič graphically brought to life the emerging EU policy context of Energy Union. It is a concept and objective that Ireland fully supports and I believe it will have a positive impact on the biggest single issue facing humanity today – global warming.
The evidence of the impact of climate change is undeniable, and the response to this global crisis demands a generous display of international solidarity. I hope and believe that this solidarity will be evident in abundance in Paris in December.
There, at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP21 – politicians and policymakers from around the globe will converge at what is a critical moment in the history of our planet.
The importance of securing a global legally-binding agreement on climate change at this meeting cannot be overstated.
Delegates must set the world on a more sustainable low-carbon pathway, consistent with the goal of keeping average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.
As a member of the EU, Ireland is fully committed to playing its part in reaching an historic agreement. I believe that the EU INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) will be a key contribution to global aggregate ambition. I fully believe that Energy Union, as it is implemented in the coming years, will drive the realisation of the commitments, which will be made by EU member states in Paris.
We reached political agreement on headline targets for 2030 at the October 2014 European Council. Europe committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, to increase to 27% the proportion of energy derived from renewables, and to increase Europe's energy efficiency by 27%.
Our vision in Ireland is equally clear and equally ambitious. We will transform Ireland's energy production and consumption patterns so that, by 2050, our system is largely decarbonised. Our first target is to meet 16% of our energy use from renewables by 2020.
We are currently at around 8% and steadily on the rise. I am confident that, with effort and vigilance, we will meet this commitment.
Ireland's energy transition
Ireland's energy transition will not be painless or without obstacles. But it's a transition that we have to make to safeguard our environment for future generations. From a policy perspective, the process of expediting that transition will be led by a new Energy Policy Framework, which I will publish later this year.
Informed by detailed consultation with an extremely wide range of stakeholders, the new framework will give direction, certainty and stability as we make the transition to a decrbonised future.
Our efforts will depend on the availability of capital and other resources. Some of our decisions will involve costs as well as benefits. We will be presented with many difficult choices , but we have no choice but to meet these challenges, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren and, indeed, this precious planet.
Once the policy framework is in place, the real work begins. Or perhaps I should be more accurate – the real work will continue and intensify, because it is already underway. Many people in this room are already engaged in the transition.
The Energy Policy Framework will support and underpin those efforts. It will give new players and existing market participants the certainty and confidence they need to invest, to reduce costs, to improve energy security, and to innovate in the technologies that will reduce our carbon footprint.
Technology and innovation
This, in turn, will promote national and regional economic development, which is of critical importance to our citizens. EY have reported that the energy sector contributed €5.4 billion to the all-island economy in 2013.
In 2014, the SEAI outlined how Irish green energy companies have been exporting into the EU and US markets for years. The report also noted that as much as €1.5 billion is being invested in sustainable energy technologies and services in Ireland each year, supporting thousands of jobs.
Government policy commitments are assisting expansion in the sector. For instance, almost €17 million was added to my Department's multi-annual ocean energy development budget between 2013 and 2016, bringing the total cumulative funding to over €26 million.
Our move to increasingly greener energy sources and products will create further business opportunities for Irish companies more exports, and many more sustainable jobs.
The energy citizen
We need to be equally innovative in the way we engage with citizens and communities. The extensive consultation that I conducted over the last year has taught me that the energy transition can only be successfully achieved if it has the active support of all its stakeholders.
Our transition will depend on human goodwill, effort and ingenuity. That requires citizens to become engaged in – and inspired by – the momentous and ambitious project of decarbonisation.
They must be encouraged to take an active role in the energy transition, starting with their own homes. We must also find ways of giving our citizens ongoing opportunities to input into policy development and implementation.
Above all, we have to listen to our citizens more actively, and to demonstrate, by our actions, that we understand their needs and have respect for their concerns.
In conclusion I'd like to thank you again for inviting me to speak and participate in this important summit. It is a very timely and important initiative.
I hope it will help us to broaden the debate about energy policy, which needs to move to the centre of public and political discourse if we are to achieve the 'power shift' referred to in the title of this event.
All of us who are involved in energy policy know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the future with confidence.
But we do know that we need to move quickly towards a decarbonised future, with an energy policy that places care for our people and our planet at its heart.