Irish Times Column, Dec 1st, 2022.

With thanks to the various colleagues who contributed ideas for this column, which I could only capture maybe 5 percent in these words

When he assumes the role of Taoiseach again later this month, Leo Varadkar will need to lead from the front and treat climate change as the emergency it is, if our emissions are to stay below legally binding carbon budgets.

Despite high ambition, Ireland still has its foot on the accelerator of global heating with greenhouse gas emissions still rising, and the Government has a huge amount of work ahead to turn this around.

The climate action plan due to be published later this month will contain hundreds of necessary measures – there are no shortcuts or silver bullets. But I propose the following eight ideas – informed by conversations I’ve had with climate experts – which should be particularly high on the agenda for the incoming Taoiseach and Government.

  1. Leaders must lead: Politicians may think climate action measures will be unpopular and be reluctant to spark a water charges-type revolt. But as the cost of a delayed transition becomes clear, politicians who drive bold climate action will be on the right side of history. Varadkar can show direct leadership by personally chairing the Climate Action Delivery Board, becoming an expert in climate change and its solutions – reading The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg is a great place to start – and by channelling his authority to call out disinformation, whataboutery and obfuscation.

  2. Make the climate emergency real: In a direct address to the nation and through ongoing, widespread public engagement, leaders must be blunt about how serious the situation is globally: climate change already brought devastation in 2022, including 20,000 excess deaths from European heatwaves and tens of millions displaced in Pakistan from flooding. And this is just the beginning. They should explain why climate action is vital, and be honest with the public, businesses and farmers that it requires vast transformations. People should be presented with a picture of a better, sustainable future and be asked to do what they can to shift society on to that path, harnessing the social solidarity and trust shown during the pandemic.

  3. Lead by example: To credibly ask people to take climate action, the Government must first show how it is decarbonising its own operations. That means removing the car park at Leinster House, putting solar panels on all government buildings, driving an energy saving campaign and monitoring and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from government air-travel. People won’t get on board if they suspect hypocrisy.

  4. Equip State bodies and the Civil Service: Institutions and government departments that regulate and support energy utilities, transport, farming and other sectors are key actors for climate action. But the status quo is powerful, and often deeply entrenched. The Government must ensure these organisations are fully aligned with climate action and have the necessary leadership, resources, mandate and accountability.

  5. Use emergency powers to slash fossil fuel power generation: Currently, multiple fossil fuel generators must run at all times to keep the power grid functioning, even when renewables can more than meet electricity needs, increasing emissions and bills. Moreover, roll-out of renewable wind and solar is too slow. The Government has already used emergency legislation to procure backup power capacity to deal with the threat of blackouts: it can, and should, put carbon budgets on the same emergency footing to modernise the grid and accelerate renewables deployment.

  6. Walk the walk on sustainable mobility: Active travel infrastructure is a national priority, but local authorities have been far too slow in rolling it out. The Government should require that all (not just new and upgraded) urban streets be compatible with the best-practice design standard this decade, becoming car-free before long. It should immediately make towns and cities car-free on Sundays to show people what a pleasant urban realm can look like, and sign the contract for Metrolink with urgency to give the 175,000 Dubliners within walking distance a sustainable and modern transport option. And obviously, new SUVs should be taxed out of existence.

  7. Restore Ireland’s depleted nature with new national parks: Human activities are causing a mass extinction event, as well as climate change. Ireland’s native ecosystem, temperate rainforest, has nearly completely vanished. That most people don’t know this fact is a mark of how nature-depleted this country is. New national parks to restore rainforest can be a multigenerational project, like building a cathedral.

  8. Align enterprise strategy with climate policy: The IDA and Enterprise Ireland should be tasked with assisting existing industries to decarbonise quickly, with growing only clean industries, and identifying economic opportunities in the low-carbon transition, like cellular meat and sustainable aviation fuels.