BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., Project Ireland 2040 - Climate Action Thematic Event Smock Alley Theatre Wednesday, 20 June 2018


Good morning.

I am delighted to be here to kick-off an important discussion on the role that communities have to play in delivering on our climate action ambitions under Project Ireland 2040. I would like to thank Minister Naughten and his Department for organising this event, and all of the panellists for taking part during the day. Climate change is the existential challenge of our generation. We must protect our planet and make it great again. Our guiding principle is that we intend to hand over guardianship and stewardship of our planet to our grandchildren in a much better state than we inherited it. 
Ireland is a small country but we have a big role to play in meeting this challenge at home and on the world stage. And as you will have seen on the video, communities are and need to be, at the heart of Project Ireland 2040 - the Government’s €116bn plan to invest in our public infrastructure, take the entire country forward, balance rural and urban investment, and prepare us for future economic challenges and opportunities. 
But of course, when you talk about 10 year plans, people become naturally sceptical. Project Ireland 2040 is already happening, this year we have spent 18% more on investing in public infrastructure compared to this time last year. Next year alone, there will be a 25% increase, that’s €1.5billion in investment. You can see it all around you, the increase in house building, 45% more last year that year before, still starting from a low base but going in right direction. The fact that our Luas is connected. The Children’s Hospital is under construction and the Satellite Unit in Blanchardstown is on the third storey.
We want to achieve compact growth, sustainable mobility, and strengthen rural economies and communities. One of its objectives is to support Ireland’s transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society. 
So Project Ireland provides for an unprecedented investment of €22bn in climate action over the next decade. The largest single package within the Plan.This is a step change in public investment in climate action. It is only now possible because we have the economy back on track, approaching full employment, an economy that is growing rapidly, with a balanced Budget. If we ever go off that course, it will be very difficult to honour this commitment, but I am determined that we will stay on the right course economically.

It is also a huge commitment of public resources to decarbonising our economy and society. However, it will not be enough on its own. The transition to a low carbon world will require profound changes in how we live our lives. And that will only be possible with the support of communities and individuals. The Government does not underestimate the scale of the challenge. We acknowledge that we have a longer journey to travel than many countries – for reasons to do with the nature of our economy and stage of economic development.
Earlier this year I talked about the need for Ireland to be a leader in climate action - and I meant it. 
The investment under Project Ireland 2040 will help bring us towards our national transition objective. In practice, it means many things. A nationwide ban on smokey coal later this year, for example. From next year all new buses bought for Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus will be low emission or no emission vehicles. Taking peat off the grid and also banning diesel and petrol car tailpipes from 2030. Investing in renewable heating and also deep retrofit on public buildings and homes. It will also mean carbon pricing and increases in carbon tax, but this will have to done in a slow and steady way so it does not cost jobs, reduce living standards or increase poverty.

However the challenge presented by climate change requires more than investment: 
It requires significant behavioural change and some tough decisions or trade-offs by government, by business, by communities and by individuals. 
It requires citizen and community engagement - from planning for renewable energy projects through to individual purchasing decisions; and 
It requires us to work collaboratively so that we capitalise on the ideas and the expertise that exists in different sectors and disciplines.

And this is what today is all about. 
It is about building on the National Mitigation Plan, on the National Dialogue on Climate Change which is meeting this weekend in Athlone, and on the Citizens’ Assembly – to talk about how we can better empower communities to participate in climate action efforts.
In terms of collaboration, the four competitive Funds under Project Ireland 2040 have a major role to play. These have a combined commitment of €4bn for collaborative projects that deliver on Project Ireland’s objectives, climate action among them – particularly through the dedicated Climate Action fund.

It is fitting that this event is taking place here in Smock Alley – a place that has long played a central role in Dublin and Ireland’s history. It has a great story to tell; particularly on the power of community engagement. In fact, it was the community of Dublin, people from all walks of life, who made contributions large and small, to fund this theatre when it first opened in 1662; the first custom built theatre in the city.

Theatre has long been known for its capacity to hold a mirror up to society; highlighting its strengths and its weaknesses. Today’s event allows us to hold up a mirror so we can see what we are doing to our planet and how we could do things differently.

Let’s take this opportunity.