The “Sustainability Gathering 2015″ conference held in Dublin Castle, Ireland on June 24th brought together industry experts, investors, industrialists and policy makers to discuss the transition to a low-carbon economy in Ireland. The global headquarters of Celestial Green Ventures is located in Dublin.
The Sustainability Gathering was organised by Stephen Nolan of the Green IFSC initiative, and has grown from the inaugural event in 2012, attended by 200 delegates, to 600 in a packed conference hall in 2015. Following a merger, the Green IFSC has recently rebranded to the ISI Centre, with the tagline “Ireland’s sustainability investment & enterprise hub”. See also @isicentre.
The summit was moderated by the broadcasting company RTE’s business editor David Murphy. First off, the conference heard from the summit chairman Pat Cox, who revealed that the newly refurbished Guinness brewery in Dublin has become a carbon-neutral, zero-landfill facility, and urged other businesses to follow suit. Examples of low carbon economies are out there to follow, in particular in Denmark, which is aiming to become the first fossil-free economy by 2050.
Angus McCrone of Bloomberg Finance made the opening presentation in which he outlined global trends, including growth in the renewable energy sector in 2014 of 14%, largely driven by the rapid adoption of solar PV. Growth in solar energy is strongest in China and Brazil, according to Bloomberg’s Climatescope survey which tracks renewables and low-carbon factors.
A panel of high-level representatives from the Irish civil service outlined the Irish government’s strategy towards climate change and low-carbon industrial development. The picture is complicated because responsibility for climate change policy in Ireland falls between a number of stools. An inter-departmental group consisting of representatives of the departments of Environment, Energy & Natural Resources and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) are preparing a white paper in the run up to Paris COP21, which will form Ireland’s official proposals towards this crucial climate meeting.
Despite calls from the civil service panel for political leadership and even for the advent of a climate “Messiah” to boost their efforts, they seemed dismissive of using an improved carbon tax as an instrument of decarbonisation. In response to a question from CGV about this effective policy instrument that is proven to work in reducing harmful emissions, one senior official discounted the notion by saying “the boat has sailed” on such an initiative, citing difficulties in the compliance market. Celestial Green Ventures provides carbon credits and natural capital credits to the voluntary carbon market. Even if a carbon price emerges from Paris COP21, it is not clear if the Irish government is ready for that eventuality.
We are too vague about our climate change policy. We need something solid. Like those Danes. #susgath2015
— ISI Centre (@isicentre) June 24, 2015
Ireland to Miss Climate Targets Completely
This position will come as a disappointment for anyone hoping to see a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Ireland. A revenue-neutral carbon tax has been effective in other jurisdictions to stem and reverse emissions. It is a pity because effective taxation policy can bring about real change and would render a Messiah superfluous.
In fact, the Irish government has all but admitted that it will miss its climate change targets in 2020 by a wide margin. It agreed to reductions under Kyoto but now concedes they won’t be met. In the absence of a genuine policy to decarbonise the transport, heating, agricultural and construction sectors, there is not much optimism for achieving the scheduled goals for 2030 either. It almost seems as if the official response to this abject failure is to shrug their shoulders and blame the public for not caring enough about it. The Irish government risks being out of touch with public opinion, however. The unsubstantiated assertion made that the public doesn’t care is at odds with recent research which shows a very strong demand for decisive action to be taken at Paris taking hold world wide.
Irish Cattle Herd Growth
Apart from a lack of urgency and political leadership, the root of this neglect is more likely to be the conflicting policy of growing the Irish cattle herd for beef and dairy export. Animal husbandry is the single greatest contributor to GHG and Ireland’s all-powerful agricultural lobby are hard at work ensuring that the sector takes priority.
What’s good news for agriculture is bad news for everyone else. John Mullins, CEO of solar energy company Amarenco laments that this failure to curb or balance emissions is more than just a missed opportunity. The Irish state risks facing EU fines of up to €500m for its failure to achieve climate change goals in 2020. This will inevitably be passed on to the consumer in the form of a levy, he argues, which is money that will not be available to invest in the sustainable economy.
The renewable energy industry was out in force at the Sustainable Gathering 2015 with investors and energy producers seizing the opportunity to address their concerns to the policy committee members and financial interests. A number of producers of wind power bemoaned the collapse in the price per megawatt hour, while investors complained that the unexpected tripling of government rates have made their wind farm investments no longer viable.
“The boat has sailed”
Indeed, it may have seemed that “the boat has sailed” on wind farm development in Ireland, as, through a series of mishandled blunders, public opinion has turned against wind farm development. Mobilized communities are not buying into large-scale schemes to develop wind energy for export while tangible benefits to locals are left thin on the ground. The risk profile of wind farm development has risen sharply in recent years despite it being the main plank of official renewable energy and climate change policy.
Meanwhile, support to the fastest growing renewable power source in the world today – solar – is lagging, which does not offer encouragement to investors and developers. The lack of government initiatives to bootstrap the industry in the “light rush” era does not bode well for Ireland’s climate change obligations. The only official Irish policy in view is to outrun the growth in carbon pollutants mostly through a growth in wind power, which is neither logical nor possible. The Messiah, if one emerges in Ireland, will need to pull off a low-emissions reverse loaves-and-fishes miracle in the face of an unrealistic attitude to climate change.
Useful Sustainability Gathering
The Sustainability Gathering 2015 demonstrated that Ireland’s climate change policy is adrift and rudderless with industrialists and investors uncertain as to their prospects in the regime of the next five years and beyond. Many interesting innovations in sustainable industries are struggling to gain a foothold despite official lip-service being paid to creating “green jobs”. However, it was generally agreed that the Sustainability Gathering event was a useful exercise to gather the concerned parties together under one roof for a well-organised conference to discuss the issues facing the industry.
While Irish business and industry is clearly stepping up to meet the challenges and opportunities of low-carbon economic development in innovative ways, their determination to get things done is not equalled by government policy. If your business needs more than spiritual leadership for a sustainable future, simply contact Celestial Green Ventures to find out how to balance your unavoidable emissions.
Corporate reporting will be very different in 5-10 years. Triple bottom line, carbon, etc. #susgath2015
— ISI Centre (@isicentre) June 24, 2015
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