Less than a year ago Ireland was named and shamed as one of the worst performing countries in meeting its climate change obligations.
Biodiversity is threatened and its greenhouse gas emissions were projected to increase rather than decrease, putting the country on course to achieve a one per cent reduction by next year – far short of the target of 20 per cent or any of the targets for 2030 or 2050.
Overall the country was classed a relatively poor performer for emissions, greenhouse gases, bathing water standards and even for land designated as protected areas for birds.
Large cattle herds accounted for a third of the country’s greenhouse gases, with transport and energy coming accounting for a fifth.
Skip forward to a little short of a year later and Ireland’s political parties have all pulled together, in common purpose, to declare a climate emergency – following the lead of Ireland’s nearest neighbour, the UK.
In the time since last year the popular, widely admired, naturalist David Attenborough, 93, has done his best to convey the ‘minute to midnight’ nature of the challenge facing us all, with the simple words: “It’s hard to exaggerate the peril we’re in.”
And there has been the widespread, no-nonsense appeal of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg with whom many politicians have been keen to share photo opportunities.
A couple of days ago in New Zealand UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 70, called on young people to “be as noisy possible” to get their elected leaders to pay attention to the existential threat of climate change. This was necessary because the political will was clearly fading even as the threats gets worse every day.
“We need the leadership of the youth … because those who have to take responsibility in the world, especially Governments, are not showing enough political will,” he said.
He urged them to “mobilise your societies, your parents, families and friends and to put your Governments under pressure”.
It was no coincidence that he chose New Zealand to make his remarks. That small country of just under 4.8m, a smaller population than the island of Ireland or even Scotland is seeking to become a world leader, by example, in tackling climate change.
The spin-obsessed UK government, meanwhile, despite grabbing headlines by being the first country to declare a climate emergency, sees no inherent contradiction in scrapping incentives for ‘cleaner’ electric cars or expanding the already huge and polluting Heathrow Airport.
It would be quite discouraging to think that Irish politicians are equating a solemn pronouncement about our climate change emergency is the same as doing something about it.
This is so much more serious and important than just sorting out the recycling on the doorstep, major institutional and behavioural change is needed.
How heartening it would be to see Ireland put its money where its mouth is and to be one of the nations helping to bring about that change.