And so, to Paris. COP21 kicked off on Monday with each of the almost 200 world leaders chipping in their opening contributions. The feeling at the last mega-COP (in Copenhagen in December 2009) was that leaders only engaged at the very end, by which time the bones of the conference had been picked clean of any meaning, leaving a hollow shell as its legacy.
Quite how many more ‘final warnings’ anyone can seriously think the global scientific establishment can issue before anyone pays heed remains unclear. What we do know is that the mood music in Paris is significantly more sombre and serious than in any of the previous 20 Conferences of the Parties since the whole UNFCCC jamboree kicked off in 1994. (a year probably best remembered for Ray Houghton’s winner against Italy in the World Cup).
Back in Paris, it was all going well. US president Barack Obama struck an ambitious tone in his address: “One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change”. Measuring success, he suggested, would be: “in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that’s preserved… the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here – can we imagine a more worthy reward than that? Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement”.
Cynicism – did someone mention cynicism? Cue our own best little world leader in the world, Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He rocked up to the stage like he had arrived late for a Fine Gael cumann meeting in Westport. Before he even got to deliver this speech, he had taken the assembled media aside and told them, in effect, to never mind the bullocks, Ireland would do as little as humanly possible to address climate change, a subject he has clearly never spent more than three minutes seriously contemplating in his 40 years in Leinster House.
Granted, our expectations were low enough, but to be fair, Kenny didn’t fail to deeply disappoint. Wearing my hat as climate change spokesperson for An Taisce, I dashed off the statement below and it was dispatched late on Monday night. I was given an opportunity to expand on our critique of Kenny’s performance early the following day on RTE’s ‘Morning Ireland’, with news coverage throughout the day on all national channels continuing to take a distinctly critical tone.
Wind energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor cut to the chase earlier today when decrying what he described, damningly, as Ireland’s “sleeven approach” on emissions targets. Figures across the political and NGO spectrum were queueing up to throw rotten tomatoes at Kenny’s abysmal Paris COP-out. Today’s Examiner news headline, for example, was a zinger: ‘Ireland’s cynical approach on climate change criticised’.
A clever little ploy of slipping in part of the government’s existing Irish Aid budget and re-labelling it as ‘climate spending’ was rumbled, and the government’s actual commitment to the Green Climate Fund was a derisory €2 million, or less than 50 cent per capita. Poetically, this precisely the amount of the payoff agreed between farm lobbyist group president Eddie Downey and ousted IFA general secretary Pat Smith (and speaking of the farm lobby, myself and Oisin Coghlan were in a 3-way debate with the IFA’s Harold Kingston on TodayFM earlier that evening, link here – go forward to 37’10”).
Media coverage of the first two days of COP21 have, as you might expect, been significant. However, it had been completely dropped by tonight’s main RTE TV news bulletin, which doesn’t augur well for the rest of the conference, nor does having George Lee trying to discharge the comically improbable dual mandate of being both the Environment and Agriculture corr. Foxes and henhouses spring to mind.
There is an important test for RTE tomorrow (Thursday) night, when PrimeTime carries a piece on agriculture and climate change (I did a pre-record for same on Sunday last at the well-attended climate march in Dublin). Regrettably, it appears that serial climate contrarian, Ray Bates has once again been chosen by the PrimeTime editors as a fit person to speak on this subject. The last time Bates was wheeled out – in March 2014, it did absolutely nothing to enhance the reputation of PrimeTime .
So the motto in Montrose on climate coverage seems to be: if at first you screw up, repeat the formula a year later…then stand back and see what happens this time. However, I don’t want to pre-judge, so let’s see what happens in the next 24 hours.
I’m heading to Paris bright and early this Saturday morning, in time for the launch of the book Visions 2100, and hope to file a couple of reports from my travels.
Meanwhile, here’s the full text we issued on Monday night:
Worst possible start to COP21 for Ireland as Taoiseach drops ball on Day 1
Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered a disjoined and deeply flawed performance in his opening address to the COP21 conference in Paris today (30/11).
Instead of setting out a clear pathway for dramatic decarbonisation of the Irish economy and our transition to a safer, sustainable future, Mr. Kenny used his opportunity with the world’s leaders present to again peddle the tactics of Ireland’s powerful agriculture and food processing industry lobby in pleading for ‘special treatment’ for one particular sector of the Irish economy.
Rather than engaging with the reality of spiralling emissions arising from the impacts of Food Harvest 2020/Food Wise 2025, which sees an addional 300,000 dairy cattle added to the national herd, Mr. Kenny chose instead to waffle about ‘carbon foot-printing 43,500 beef farms and 18,000 dairy farms’. Adding 300,000 carbon foot-printed cattle still increases GHGs.
While sheltering behind Ireland being tied as an EU member to sharp emissions reductions (20% by 2020, rising to 40% by 2030), Mr. Kenny, along with Ministers Coveney and Kelly have repeatedly made it clear that they do not feel bound by “unrealistic” EU commitments, and will, at every opportunity, seek to undermine these.
This is because they know well the impossibility of Ireland making meaningful and sustained Greenhouse Gas reductions while driving the expansion of ruminant-based agriculture (ie. dairy and beef production) which is far and away the most emissions-intensive and least sustainable form of agriculture. The fact that some countries, somewhere on earth may be even less efficient than Ireland at producing massive amounts of dairy and meat products doesn’t make our agro-industrial expansion policy any less inexcusable.
Recent analysis from the highly respected UK Chatham House think tank pointed out that the global livestock industry now accounts for more emissions than all the cars, trains, planes and ships in the world – combined. Yet, a MORI study found the public mistakenly think transport is a far bigger contributor to global warming than livestock agriculture.
The IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report pointed out that dietary change could “substantially lower” global GHG emissions, but there is not yet a UN plan in place to deliver this transition.
The Chatham House report concludes: “Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C.” Yet today, Mr. Kenny, rather than squarely facing the challenge of putting Ireland on the path to a sustainable, food-secure future, instead ‘went out to bat’ for the powerful agri and food-processing industries.
According to the EPA, agriculture will account for 45% of Ireland’s total (non-ETS) emissions by 2020, with transport adding another 30%. Both these sectors are on entirely unsustainable pathways, and Mr. Kenny has done absolutely nothing in Paris to signal how Ireland can make the transition.
Multiple recent studies have shown that the target of avoiding a catastrophic +2C rise in global temperatures is, in the words of the Chatham House report, “off the table” unless there is a global shift away from meat and dairy consumption.
Assuming Mr. Kenny and the farming lobby he speaks on behalf of actually understands the science, he is, in essence, committing Ireland to do its full share in bringing the nightmare of what the IPCC warns of “dangerous and irreversible climate change” ever closer.