Given that climate change is now widely acknowledged as the number one economic, political and societal challenge of the 21st century, isn’t it time Ireland had a government department to reflect this reality?

With Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 now on the statute books, and with the establishment in recent days of the new Climate Change Advisory Council chaired by Prof John Fitzgerald, An Taisce believes now is the time for the incoming government to commit to forming a new Department of Climate Action.

With the announcement in recent days by NASA that 2015 was by far the hottest year globally since records began, and the likelihood that 2016 will be even hotter, the message from the scientific community is clear. Time is fast running out to have any realistic chance of preventing the very worst effects of climate disruption. Ireland cannot afford another electoral cycle of fudge and inaction. 2016 must be the year for Climate Action.

In 2008, the UK government, under then prime minister, Gordon Brown, established the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as a government department to take over some of the functions related to energy of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and those relating to climate change from the Environment Department.

This step put down a clear marker that climate change is a permanent part of the UK political landscape, and the two governments since Labour left power in 2010, both the Tory/Lib Dem coalition and the current Conservative government, have left the UK’s DECC in place as a symbolic hub of unified government thinking on climate change.

At the moment, climate change falls under the brief of Ireland’s Department of Environment, Community & Local Government, and it has been widely seen as being reactive, rather than proactive, on climate issues. There has little evidence of the political leadership needed to drive short, medium and long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies and to firmly embed this thinking at the heart of all government strategy.

These are urgently needed to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change while working to reduce future impacts by reducing carbon emissions across every sector of society.

John Gibbons, spokesperson for An Taisce's Climate Change Committee stated: “we are calling on each of the political parties who will be vying to form the 32nd Dáil to back our proposal to have a dedicated new department of Climate Action established”. If setting up an entirely new department proves unachievable, An Taisce urges the incoming government to commit, as an absolute minimum, to the establishment of a ‘Department of Energy, Communications & Climate Action’.

This will send out a clear signal at home and abroad that the new government is ready to tackle the grave threats climate change pose to national prosperity and security, now and in the future. The people living in the Shannon basin need little reminding that climate-fuelled extreme weather events are already playing havoc with their lives and livelihoods.

What the Irish public is looking for now is a clear sign that our politicians and our public sector is up to the challenge, and what better way to signal this resolve than by setting up a new government department with relevant responsibility?

Gibbons concluded: “We can no longer afford to simply stumble from one climate disaster to the next. It is time to accept scientific reality and put Ireland on a war footing in the long battle ahead against the impacts of climate change”.

For further information, please call:
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee Tel: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland