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Climate change revolution is coming – it’s up to us not to get left behind economically

Across Ireland, the damage is still being cleared after Storm Ophelia, the worst storm to hit us in 50 years.

But the destruction caused by this ‘extreme weather event’ should make us all sit up and realise that this was not extreme; unless we act, this will soon be normal.

The other morning, I walked to work in Dublin and saw people dressed in tee-shirts. It’s the first week of November and winter has barely made a whimper, a scene that is beginning to fit a familiar pattern.

We were also told last week that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is at the highest levels in over 800,000 years – that’s according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

We’re literally in danger of losing the air that we breathe.

That’s why the 11 days of Cop 23 talks which begin in Bonn next week matter.

Ireland, along with 197 other parties to the historic 2015 Paris UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Cop 21), will meet and try and work out how to implement that deal.

Two years ago, the world agreed a plan that would limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 compared to average temperatures at the start of the industrial era — with hopes to even limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, if possible.

The 2° target means the world can produce 3.6 trillion tonnes of greenhouses gases annually and no more. And that’s just to have a 66pc chance of hitting the 2° mark. The deal also aims to remove these gases from the atmosphere between 2050 and 2100.

Can we do it? We must try to – and if we don’t, we can expect more catastrophic storms, rising sea levels, devastation of food crops and huge pressures on the Earth’s scarce resources such as fuel and water.

We all know that President Obama pledged the US to meet these climate change targets. We also now know that President Trump is trying to reverse this by ramping up fossil fuel production in the US, just as the world moves away from these negative practices.

So why does it matter to Ireland? And if President Trump is not on board, is there any point trying to implement the Paris deal?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

Despite his pronouncements, corporate America and States such as California are part of a ‘We Are Still In’ campaign. Indeed, among those present in Bonn will be dozens of America’s climate champions including State governors, key business leaders and academics.

They will stand in solidarity with nations including Ireland, showing the world that US leadership on climate change extends beyond federal policy. They are stepping up because their very future is at stake.

In simple terms, to implement the Paris agreement, hard cash is required – and lots of it. There will be winners and those who will get left behind. Paris binds all countries to undertake economy-wide measures to reduce emissions. These efforts require significant finance to build and scale projects that can help to decarbonise the planet.

Relevant, recent examples that spring to mind include:

Finance: Dutch tech giant Philips has agreed a deal with banks that links their sustainability performance to the interest rate on a €1 billion loan. Insurance giants Axa and Allianz are to stop financing companies whose businesses are based on coal.
Energy efficiency: Bloomberg last week opened a new £1 billion European HQ in London, the world’s most sustainable office building using 70pc less water and 40pc less energy than a typical office block.
Innovation and Cleantech: Irish firms are world leaders. HUB Controls was this week named in the World’s Top 3 Cleantech companies at an event in London.

So, regardless of how much progress is made in Bonn, the direction of travel to a sustainable, low-carbon economy is unstoppable, with or without US leadership.

At home, up to €28 billion in green financial activities, including €11 billion in green bonds, is managed from, domiciled or listed in this country. That figure is growing as Ireland, in line with the Government’s IFS 2020 Strategy, becomes a financial centre at the vanguard of this transition.

Sustainable Nation Ireland, which promotes Ireland as a hub for sustainable business and investment, last month signed the ‘Casablanca Declaration’ – an important United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative which aligns major financial centres including Dublin as key hubs for green money and investment.

Pursuing this agenda will be extremely rewarding, making Ireland a ‘go-to’ destination for green and sustainability-themed business and capital, as well as helping to safeguard the planet’s ecosystem for future generations.

On a global level, green and sustainable finance is booming, in line with advances in technology, the increasing competitiveness of renewables, innovation in energy storage and electric vehicles and the internet of things, which helps energy to be used more efficiently.

These trends are both a massive opportunity and threat to Irish and global firms, which can choose to position themselves as leaders, or risk being left behind as the sustainability agenda spreads to all sectors of the global economy.

Cop 23 in Bonn represents the promise of bright future. Green finance and innovation in cleantech is a growth story, presenting an exciting and lucrative opportunity for Ireland. We would be foolish not to grasp it with both hands.


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