The Citizens’ Assembly meets in Dublin this weekend to discuss how the Government can “make Ireland a leader on climate change”.
Its members will be addressed by a range of national and international academics, practitioners and experts on climate change, and hear how countries are affected by it and responding to it. It will also hear how energy use has changed in response to global warming – the Assembly received more that 1,200 submissions on the issue.
On its mandate Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said “implicit in the wording of the Oireachtas resolution is an acknowledgement that climate change is happening.” That left no room for doubt as to how this Assembly should proceed in its deliberations; “our starting point must be that climate change is here and that it must be tackled”.
Members will also have an opportunity to hear how individuals and organisations in Ireland have shown leadership in climate change. In early November, it will consider recommendations.
The Assembly will hear presentations from experts on climate change effects, including flooding and weather impacts, and what is likely to happen in the future. The Government’s response – notably through the National Mitigation Plan and a “national dialogue” – and the EPA’s verdict will be outlined.
Ms Justice Laffoy said she expected there would be a thought provoking and robust discussion on how the State can become a leader in tackling climate change. “Anyone looking at international and national news events over the past few months cannot but be struck by the very visible impact of climate change and the potential vastness of the subject itself.”
The Assembly’s task, however, was quite specific, she noted. “I am confident we have put together a work programme that will provide the members of the Assembly with the opportunity to consider where Ireland currently is and how it may lead.”
Climate expert Prof John Sweeney said the Assembly process was a chance to reset the dial and for ordinary people to take charge of their children’s future. “The Assembly has shown itself to be fearless in its deliberations on other issues and to be willing to lead where politicians have failed to go.”
He added: “A historic responsibility rests on their shoulders… the Citizens’ Assembly must have the fortitude to see beyond the smokescreen of greenwash and make the radical recommendations necessary to make Ireland a leader in climate change, and not an international embarrassment.”
Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are “off the charts”, and are contributing to hunger and a loss of water in some of the poorest countries in the world, according to a report published by the aid agency Trócaire ahead of the Assembly considering climate change – the ‘Still Feeling the Heat’ report analyses the impact on five countries .
Trócaire’s head of policy and advocacy Niamh Garvey said: “The report brings home the reality of the impacts of climate change on people’s lives today. From worsening droughts in east Africa, which result in hunger for millions of people, to the increased severity of storms in Central America, the poorest people in the world continue to pay the highest price for political failure to tackle climate change.”
The Assembly’s consideration of climate change was an opportunity for people to demand increased political engagement on the issue, Ms Garvey said. “Ireland is not immune from floods and storms that will become more frequent and more intense due to the changing climate. This weekend marks an incredibly important moment in Ireland’s response to the significant impacts of climate change.”
According to the report, one Irish person emits 74 times more carbon dioxide per year than one Ethiopian or Malawian. “In three short years we have witnessed major achievements such as the Paris Agreement and the enactment of climate legislation in Ireland but also a series of devastating humanitarian crises exacerbated by climate change,” Ms Garvey said. “The majority of the actions that need to be taken are already known. What is needed now is the political will to prioritise their implementation.”
The Assembly will be live streamed on the Assembly website citizensassembly.ie