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‘Tragedy’ if Greens lose office over climate action
Alex White SC

19 Jun 2023 / environment Print

‘Tragedy’ if Greens lose office over climate action

A significant part of the litigation that Government deals with relates to issues concerning climate change, Attorney General Rossa Fanning has said.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Climate Bar Association (Comhshaol) on 16 June at the Bar Council building, Fanning said that public authorities and statutory agencies that act independently of central Government, frequently defend litigation in which an environmental law is invoked.


“This in my view reflects the increasing complexity of the law which regulates society’s impact on the environment and on climate change,” he said.

The law also now imposes substantive obligations on the State, including through international agreements, and an “increasingly intricate network of EU directives and regulations”, he said.

Many environmental duties have been voluntarily assumed by the State, the AG said, including the obligation to build the infrastructure for climate transition to carbon neutrality.

What he called the ‘public-sector climate-action mandate’ will lead the public sector by example in reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency, he said.

Barrister Alex White SC, who is a former minister for energy, said that, four years ago, the Dáil had declared a climate emergency, making Ireland the second country in the world to do so, after Britain.

Voters must understand that climate action must be the Government’s single greatest priority, he said, ahead of pressing problems such as housing and public transport.

“All of these challenges come back, in one way or another, to the climate emergency, whether as part of the problem or as part of the solution,” he said.

Central imperative

The bigger picture is that the climate emergency must not be listed as a separate item in a long list of problems, but “elevated beyond a sectoral consideration to a central imperative of all Government action and societal concern,” he stated.

The 2015 Paris Agreement achieved something that seemed elusive for many years, he added – a legally-binding international treaty on climate change.

The direction of travel in Europe is towards continuing and accelerating climate action, he said, despite “backsliding” and resistance by some member states.

The goal is to reduce the EU emissions by at least 55% by 2030, driven by a suite of measures on binding annual greenhouse gas emissions’ rates among others.


Other parties have been “radicalised and educated” by the Green Party presence in Government, Alex White stated.

“They have used their influence to deliver very, very significant advances in policy … and in our climate laws,” he said.

If targets aren’t met, and laws don’t end up delivering change, the burning question is how to ensure that ambitions are actually achieved, he said.

Climate disaster is not fiction or exaggeration, he stated.

It is far from clear that political accountability for unmet climate targets will be forthcoming, he said.


"The public discourse is uncertain at best, and at times, toxic,” he stated.

The electoral cycle may work against progress on climate, he added, with costs on future generations that the current generation has no incentive to fix.

“A real tragedy could be that the very politicians who are attempting to address the problem end up suffering electorally rather than being rewarded,” he stated.

“That would genuinely be a tragedy,” he stated, adding that he had personal experience of this phenomenon.

There is mounting evidence, however, that courts are alive to the climate challenges and becoming more amenable to cases brought against both public and private bodies, that seek to strengthen compliance, he said.

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