Seeing the light

A DIRE warning came this week.

Dr Fatih Birol, one of the world’s top energy experts, believes the planet has only six months to take decisive action on gas emissions or else face climate catastrophe.

You may not have heard of Dr Birol but his warning cannot be ignored. He is the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental body set up in 1974 to safeguard oil supplies. It is today playing a very different role in advocating reform.

Dr Birol’s warning is a useful context within which to view the Prime Minister’s announcement on Wednesday of two renewable energy projects that are to be part of a move to slash carbon emissions by 15 per cent by 2030.

In a general-election year, it is easy to see this announcement as merely another classic election goodie.

But two factors suggest this is more than just a carrot being dangled.

The first is the involvement of energy companies like BPTT and Shell. Their inclusion in Dr Rowley’s announcement suggests energy companies – which have a lot on their hands right now, given the collapse of prices and the charged nature of environmental activism – are willing to change tracks.

Considering such big companies have significant resources, they could well be in prime position to bring about the transformation needed in the quickest time.

“There is a lot to be done and we can’t waver in our focus on climate change,” said BPTT’s regional president Claire Fitzpatrick this week.

The other key factor is the covid19 pandemic. It has added a heightened sense of urgency. The record fall in emissions – they dropped by 15 per cent in April alone – has given nature a reprieve. However, the belief that climate change played a role in the migration of the new coronavirus from animals to humans suggests the problems are linked.

Climate change is a matter engaging the attention of world leaders. Key bodies like the Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency, led by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, include representatives from nations like China, the US, the UK, Ethiopia, India and New Zealand.

In contrast, because of our relatively small size we have lagged behind on these issues as we pay lip service or make glacial progress. We remain dependent on natural gas for our energy needs. And after four years of decline, our carbon emissions rose in 2018.

Generally, there is appalling neglect if not active abuse of the environment, as seen in the frequent oil spills at state facilities, regular court cases involving illegal poaching and the garbage (especially plastic bottles) tossed unthinkingly into rivers and drains – all reflecting a dangerous laxity on environmental issues.

Hopefully, this is changing. When it comes to things like solar energy, perhaps we will, post-covid19, finally see the light.


"Seeing the light"

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