There has been cross-party support and agreement on Ireland’s response to the substantial threat posed by Brexit.
But it is disappointing there is no similar level of support and urgency on an issue that poses a much more significant long-term threat to our economy and society: climate change.
Ireland’s woeful record on climate change action is well documented.
It is a source of embarrassment and it is damaging our economy, society, and environment. The State is 90% off the 2020 target for reducing emissions and if on the current path there can be little prospect of meeting the 2030 targets.
Climate Change Minister Richard Bruton, has made promising noises since taking over the portfolio. A cross-government plan on climate action measures is due by the end of March. This has to be a game changer.
Meeting the climate action targets will require change in many areas — for the economy and society. However, an important element in cutting carbon production is a shift in energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
In this area, we can turn the challenge into an opportunity.
Wind energy has the potential to contribute a better quality of life and a better standard of living.
However, it is clear from the raft of objections that have delayed and halted onshore wind farms that the only way Ireland could meet its EU target of generating 40% from renewable electricity is to go offshore.
Ireland is one of the world’s best places for off-shore wind energy. The highest average wind speeds in Europe are found off the west coast.
The Irish coast quickly reaches depths of 60 to 200 metres which facilitates floating turbines closer to shore and reduces the costs of installation and maintenance.
Off-shore wind energy is economically viable, with the cost of electricity generated from this source falling significantly in recent years.
An EU study predicted that electricity from offshore wind will be cheaper than generating electricity from gas.
As European governments commit to more offshore wind projects, the cost of electricity will continue to fall. The Government needs to make similar commitments to offshore wind.
Avoiding fines are not the only reason for committing to offshore wind. There are strong economic reasons as well. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, offshore wind could provide 15,000 jobs by 2050.
And wind has the potential to generate more electricity than is needed domestically by 2030, with most coming from offshore projects.
There is also a potential for offshore wind farms to produce hydrogen which can be used to replace fossil fuels in transport. In the last number of months, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have been trialling hydrogen-fuelled buses on the streets of Dublin and Cork.
From July, diesel-only buses cannot be purchased for urban fleets. The production of hydrogen as a by-product in offshore wind projects provides a source of clean fuel for public transport and in time private transport. In this area, Ireland also needs substantial improvement to meet the targets.
While clean sources of energy are desirable to improve environmental outcomes, there is also a need to find alternatives to energy sources that are running out.
The decommissioning of the Kinsale gas fields will be completed by 2021.
The Corrib gas fields are much smaller and will have a production life of 15 years. This means the Government has little time to waste.
There are barriers; the Government’s Marine Spatial Plan needs to be published promptly and include a commitment to offshore wind. The process of foreshore consents, which is part of the planning process, needs to be adequately resourced.
The experience with Apple in Athenry shows that international businesses’ patience with the planning process is limited.