Rural communities will be at the vanguard of the European Union climate and environment agenda.
Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan gave the assurance at the Irish Rural Link national conference in Athlone which had climate change opportunities for rural communities as a theme.
He said policy structures like the Common Agricultural Policy have improved climate performance significantly but a “great leap forward” is urgently needed.
Mr Hogan said the European Commission intends to “aim higher” in relation to the contribution of farming and rural areas.
Proposals for the future CAP and Horizon Europe acknowledge that the challenges remain significant. They see farmers and rural communities as being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
He said the new approach will allow greater freedom at national level to decide how best to meet common European Union-wide objectives while responding to the specific needs of farmers, rural communities and wider society.
Mr Hogan said there are already countless examples of Irish towns, villages and remote communities innovating and working together in this area.
The Burren Project in Co Clare is considered best practice in Europe when it comes to designing a smart and sustainable locally-based agri-environment scheme.
Westport recently banned the use of plastic straws in bars and restaurants and a number of offshore islands are rolling out electric community vehicles.
More and more rural households are availing of sustainable energy grants to retrofit their homes and upgrade their energy systems to renewable power sources.
“But the reality is that we need to do more, and we need to do it faster,” he said, noting that EU citizens support the European level as the right place to do it.
“Politicians understand this, just look at how central the climate question has been in this year’s local and European elections.
“Or take the schoolchildren’s climate strike, where tens of thousands of young people in over 100 countries took to the streets demanding climate action.
“Our children, the custodians of our future, are laying down the challenge to us, and we must have the courage and foresight to respond,” he said.