Photo: Shamim Malekmian

Action must follow words as climate emergency declared

May 10th, 2019

Climate campaigners, NGOs, and student activists have welcomed the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency as the first step in the race to halt runaway emissions and unprecedented loss of species.

Yesterday, the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency, making Ireland one of the first countries to officially recognise the gravity of the crisis facing us.

A landmark global assessment release on Monday has found that one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction and declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

The issue was raised during a debate on a motion to accept and endorse the recommendations of the new landmark climate report from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action.

Reacting to the announcement, Cork’s most prominent 16-year-old climate activist Saoi O’Connor told The Green News that she is “cautiously welcoming” of the Dáil declaration.

“It is the first step, and it is great that it has been taken, but we have to keep mounting the pressure now more than ever to make sure that they actually act on their words,” she said.

O’Connor continued that the new achievement has been the fruit of schoolchildren’s relentless campaigning, and rebuked any political party that claims credit for the new climate measure.

“We were celebrating last night, but we do have to be cautious. I find it difficult to see people patting certain [political] parties on the back for doing this when it took schoolchildren to bring us to this bare minimum step,” O’Connor added.

She also criticised the Irish media for giving limited coverage to the announcement and called on reporters to analyse and examine the “consequences” of the recent declaration.

“It is almost like they don’t take it seriously as a crisis, and they’ve just done this as some kind of a façade,” O’Connor said.

Commending Ireland’s recognition of the climate emergency, pioneering, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg encouraged other countries to follow suit.

Oisín Coghlan (l) of the Pillar & Ciara Barry of Not Here, Not Anywhere Photo: Niall Sargent

First step forward

The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of over 30 groups – also commended young school strikers as well as Ireland’s Extinction Rebellion campaigners for compelling the State into action.

The Pillar’s Oisín Coghlan said that the State has an opportunity to “challenge climate change and represent the public’s increasing desire for urgent action”.

“Declaring a Climate Emergency is a rationale response to the threat level and our failure so far to stem the pollution poisoning our life support system on Earth, our only home,” he said.

The Pillar also welcomed the fact that the Dail will now also call on the Citizens’ Assembly to examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss.

Applauding the Dáil’s acknowledgement of a biodiversity crisis, Oonagh Duggan of Birdwatch Ireland also said that it is “high time for biodiversity loss in Ireland to be centre stage”.

“Nature has been undergoing death by a thousand cuts and we must call a halt to the loss now,” she warned.

“We call on the Government to initiate this [Citizens’ Assembly] process as soon as possible. We have no time to lose”.

The Irish Wildlife Trust’s Pádraic Fogarty added that “there can be no more hiding” from Ireland’s ecological collapse.

“Presenting this issue to the Citizens’ Assembly is an important first step toward addressing our extinction crisis,” he said.

Action, not empty words

While welcoming the move, People before Profit TD Bríd Smith called on the State to follow up with action and impose a ban on fossil fuels exploration in order to make the declaration meaningful.

Ms Smith – who has tabled a Bill to ban the granting of new oil and gas exploration licenses – said that supporting the fossil fuel industry while declaring a climate emergency would undermine the authenticity of the climate-conscious gesture.

“We know we must leave 80 per cent of oil, gas and coal in the ground to stay with the limits of the Paris [greement] Treaty,” she added.

“Supporting an industry that damages our marine environment and wants to find more sources is insane.”

The Green Party also called on the Taoiseach to convene an emergency cabinet meeting to approve a ban on drilling for oil and gas and peat extraction.

The party also wants to see the cabinet ramp up support for sustainable transport, as well as banning single use plastic and starting a deposit and return scheme for bottles.

Without urgent policy change, last night’s historic declaration will be seen as nothing more than “gesture politics” according to the Green’s deputy leader Catherine Martin.

“This declaration is an opportunity to turn things around, but we need action. We can turn Ireland from being a laggard on climate action to being a leader,” she said.

“In addition to the measures above we also need to see the speedy implementation of the recommendations of the Climate Action Committee report.”

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.

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