The time for climate action is now

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The Time For Climate Action Is Now The Time For Climate Action Is Now
A free panel discussion on climate action taking place as part of Science Week 2022, at the Wren hotel in Dublin. Pictured L-R: Claire O'Connell, contributor to The Irish Times and event MC, Prof Lisa Ryan, energy economist, UCD, Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society, SFI, and Dr Paul Deane, energy expert, SFI MaREI Research Centre.
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Climate Change – whose responsibility is it to act?

As Cop27 drew to a close last week, so did Science Week 2022. A key theme running across Science Week was climate change and sustainability. While COP27 is primarily open to policy- and decision-makers, Science Week is something that everyone can engage with.

Science Week aims to engage the public and create conversations about the world around them. As climate change is the most pressing issue of a generation, Science Week considered it an imperative to open up this conversation between expert researchers and the public.

Last week, a free panel discussion took place featuring Dr Paul Deane, energy expert in the SFI MaREI Research Centre, Prof Lisa Ryan, Energy Economist at UCD, and Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society at SFI. The conversation was wide-ranging, focussing on the problem as well as the practical solutions we can take to tackle it.

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The central question the event posed was: whose responsibility is it to tackle climate change?

While at an individual level there can be action taken, accusations are often directed at policymakers and big business; that they are the ones that need to enact change.

While there is merit in this view, the real answer is much more nuanced than this. As was pointed out by both Ruth and Lisa at the event, Ireland ranks second in the EU for per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore everyone will need to make an effort to reduce their emissions.

Lisa also referenced that while there is a major part for the policymakers and large corporates to play in the fight against climate action, public will and sentiment play a major role in the actions and decisions of both. Politicians largely act in line with the desires of their constituents and businesses will also aim to match consumer demands.

The message came clear from the panel: the public as individuals can play a part in reducing Irish greenhouse gas emissions.

So, what can people realistically do?

A piece of advice that was common across the panel was the need to speak up. Paul recommended strongly that everyone should be raising this as an issue with their local politicians, particularly when they come canvassing at the next general election. The public need to demonstrate that they want change for politicians to implement it.

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Paul raised the fact that Ireland spends over €1 million every hour importing fossil fuels. He outlined that this is something everyone should be aware of and talking about.

The practical steps that people can take to reduce emissions are often expensive, such as switching to an electric vehicle or retrofitting one’s home. Other steps, such as eating less meat and taking public transport instead of driving, are less expensive but much more inconvenient in day-to-day living.

People are opting out because they feel their efforts don’t matter when others don’t make changes - individual responsibility does matter and is also helpful for reducing ‘climate anxiety’ among citizens.

And what can the government do?

It is clear that solutions are required at the policy level. One idea posed by Lisa was that the government should consider introducing property-linked finance. This would mean that a low interest loan can be taken out against a property over its lifespan. This type of finance would make it far more feasible for someone to take out a loan to retrofit their homes.

Another issue raised by Ruth was Ireland’s planning system. As she described it, rather than having a planning system, we have a permission system. The government should be looking at our land and resources and outlining what should be developed in certain areas. Rather than waiting for a developer to propose a development, decisions should be made in advance.

Interconnectedness

Another theme that really came up during the conversation was interconnectedness. Climate change tends to be linked to many other issues. We have a climate problem, biodiversity problem and a cost-of-living crisis that all have a common solution, renewable sources.

An example that highlights the interconnectedness of issues is that the lack of student accommodation means that there are far more students driving to college every day, therefore increasing their carbon footprint

Science Week is Ireland’s annual celebration of science with hundreds of both in person and hybrid events taking place nationwide. Running from the 13th until 20th November in 2022, Science Week engaged the Irish public on the theme of Infinite Possibilities. www.scienceweek.ie

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