Mr Higgins said the State would be obliged to play a leading role if it is to have any hope of bringing citizens “on the difficult journey to a decarbonised future”.
The president also called on individual citizens to play their part, urging them to use electric cars and become less dependent on fossil fuels.
Mr Higgins made the comments on Wednesday during his keynote address to the Engineers Ireland Conference.
He told the conference that climate change is the “most pressing existential crisis facing us all as a global community”.
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) October 21, 2020
He added: “The Irish State must lead by example if it is to have any credibility, any realistic hope of bringing its citizens with it on the difficult journey to a decarbonised future.”
He added that the public has a “moral obligation” to play their part in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
He said: “All of us, individuals, communities and professions alike, are asked to take ownership of the commitment to tackle climate change if we are to succeed in our low-carbon transition for our economy and our society.
“This is not optional. We, all of us as citizens, have a moral obligation to play our part in this great societal challenge.
“We in Ireland need to continue to insulate our energy-inefficient buildings, upgrade our heating systems to renewable sources such as heat pumps, switch to electric vehicles, build more public transport, and, overall, ween ourselves off our fossil fuel-dependent lifestyles.
“We also need to put in place the critical infrastructure that will enable the country to adapt and be resilient to climate change that is already occurring.”
We cannot continue with the mere placing of a green lens on economic policies
Mr Higgins also used the conference to call for a paradigm shift in economic policies, that incorporates the “radicalism” of climate action.
He added: “We cannot continue with the mere placing of a green lens on economic policies… policies that have failed manifestly and are continuing to cause damaging ecological impacts.
“We should never underestimate the strength of the resources and the influence of those who will oppose a paradigm shift, such as that of which I speak, to what is sustainable in all its forms, redistributive, more inclusive, empathetic, humane.”
The president said that without immediate action, this generation would have to shoulder the blame for the destruction brought by climate change.
He said: “The time to act is now. The longer we wait, the more we intensify and perpetuate the injustice of climate change, and we run the risk of correctly being regarded by future survivors of our planet as having been in collusion with the destruction of the lives and life-worlds of some of the most vulnerable peoples of our human family and the biodiversity on which our planetary life depends.”