Mary Robinson has said it is time for Ireland to set out its “actual plan” to tackle climate change.
A landmark report on the catastrophic impact of global warming, published by the UN on Monday, said the world will reach or exceed temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius – a limit countries have pledged to try to keep to in order to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change – over the next two decades.
Ms Robinson, a former president of Ireland and chairwoman of international non-governmental organisation The Elders, said on Tuesday that the country is no longer a “laggard” when it comes to climate change, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
“Ireland has gone from being a laggard,” she said. “But now we need to see the actual plan, the steps, and that does need not just the Government’s leadership but Government and opposition leadership.”
“It needs every county and city to be part of this.”
The UN report warned that temperature rises will continue until mid-century – and that without fast, deep reductions in greenhouse gases they will, over the course of the 21st century, exceed both the 1.5 degree and 2 degree limits set by countries in the Paris climate treaty.
The State recently passed a Climate Act, which commits the Government to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to cutting emissions by 50 per cent in the next nine years.
The Government will also publish a Climate Action Plan, setting out how it will reach the targets.
Ms Robinson said this year’s Cop26 summit will be a crucial moment for the future of the planet.
“We have this Cop26 coming up in Glasgow at the beginning of November, the most important conference of my lifetime,” she said.
“We have to have governments step up now and take the decisions,” she told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
The former president had strong words for the Australian government and its attitude towards climate change, which she said has “disgracefully not been stepping up as a rich country”.
She added that the US and China both need to work together to take measures to curb global warming.
She said the next 10 years will determine the planet’s future. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity,” she said.
On the same programme, economist John Fitzgerald, who is a member and former chairperson of the Climate Advisory Council (CAC), said that the Government had “dawdled” in a number of areas of its action plan to tackle climate change.
The Government had delayed in dealing with the licensing regime for forestry which meant that it was now “completely clogged up” and bureaucratic. This needed to be sorted out quickly because forestry was “sucking carbon” out of the atmosphere and would be a major part of the solution in Ireland, he said.
Retrofitting houses would be a difficult challenge because it would be a costly project for households and would need a wide range of taxation, grants, subsidies and regulations.
The Government needed to be honest with the people of Ireland and telling people that it was all going to come for free would be a “recipe for disaster.”
Taxes would have to rise, which would not be pleasant, he warned, but climate change was even worse. Prof Fitzgerald, emphasised that he was speaking in a personal capacity. – Additional reporting: Vivienne Clarke