First Minister and deputy First Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
My thanks to the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and to Chambers Ireland for inviting me to address you today and for organising this event together with SSE Airtricity.
It is no exaggeration to say that the topic and the timing could not be more important.
The impact of climate change will be felt by every individual, household, business and community on this island. It is no longer something that can be assigned to some distant future. The next ten years are vital if we are to address the climate crisis and ensure a safe and bright future for us all.
This is why the COP26 Summit in Glasgow next month will be so important and why Ireland will be participating fully. Translating the science and and the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crisis into policy and action is key and this will provide a critical forum.
It gives us an historic opportunity to come together to renew our commitment to the shared goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Last month, I had the privilege of chairing a debate on climate and security at the United Nations Security Council. We will continue to use our position on the Security Council to raise the linkages between climate, conflict and peace, and to advocate for an ambitions outcome at COP 26.
For our part Ireland will reduce our emissions by 51% by 2030 compared with 2018 levels.
And along with our partners in the EU, we will achieve net neutrality by 2050.
A commitment to a Just Transition will guide my Government in the preparation of our plans and policies, to ensure that nobody is left behind.
This is underpinned by the Climate Act signed into law this summer.
The Climate Action Plan 2021 will be published shortly and will reflect our step-up in ambition. It will focus on climate action as part of a ‘green’ recovery which offers the opportunity to rebuild our economy and generate new jobs.
Events like this gathering today are a welcome part of the preparation for Glasgow and serve to highlight the sectoral challenges and opportunities that the journey to net zero will bring.
Enterprise has a key role to play in contributing to our ambitious targets for decarbonisation. Decarbonising the economy requires fundamental change but will also open up new employment and enterprise opportunities.
Many of you are already making those changes.
- Responding to consumers who are increasingly placing a premium on environmentally sustainable products and services.
- Recognising the societal imperative to reduce emissions and adopt more sustainable production practices.
From an enterprise perspective, reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency, switching to and installing renewable sources of energy and adopting more circular practices is also a smart business strategy.
The Government I lead is also playing its part in partnership with business.
For example, through the new Climate Action Enterprise Fund to support companies in the transition to carbon neutrality
and the ‘Green for Micro’ programme to help prepare small businesses for the carbon neutral, more resource efficient economy of the future.
We have also seen important developments emerge from within the enterprise sectors of both parts of our island, including the Business in the Community Ireland Low Carbon Pledge, and the shared participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Now is the time to prepare for the changes underway. A strategic approach to this transition will enable companies to take advantage of its opportunities, to grow, and to thrive.
I am particularly pleased to speak at today’s event, alongside the First Minister and deputy First Minister, because meeting these fundamental changes – and these new opportunities – requires partnership.
Partnership at the global level;
Partnership between business and Government
Partnership on this island.
There is no more significant and common concern for us on this island, and across these islands, than meeting the generational challenge of climate change.
So, to be fully effective on climate action we need joined-up policy approaches and coordinated investment on a cross-border basis.
This is central to the vision and investment objectives for a Shared Island that my Government announced on Monday, as part of the revised National Development Plan. I will come back to these in some more detail in a moment.
It is significant that I am sharing this stage with the First Minister and deputy First Minister. But it is also significant that they are here together – jointly – to address this important topic for the people of Northern Ireland and of the whole island.
It is only through the good functioning of Northern Ireland Executive that the challenges of climate change and Covid recovery can be met by and for the people of Northern Ireland.
The stability of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are fundamental to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and on this island.
That was the case in 1998 and it is still the case today.
Brexit – and the UK decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union – brings with it unique and significant implications for the island of Ireland.
The Protocol was a compromise – agreed between the EU and the UK – as the best possible way to mitigate those implications.
I, and my Government, recognise the genuine concerns of some in Northern Ireland on certain aspects of the operation of the Protocol.
We are engaging closely on these issues with all communities in Northern Ireland. I will be listening carefully to the views of all those I meet today from business, civil society and across all communities.
My consistent position has been to get the Protocol working as smoothly as possible for people and for business in Northern Ireland.
I have no doubt about the readiness of the EU to engage in good faith in this same spirit.
The Commission have been engaging constructively with the British Government on what can be done to limit the impact of the Protocol on everyday life in Northern Ireland – seeking solutions that work for all.
Progressing this work, in a spirit of partnership, working at EU-UK level for agreed solutions is the way forward.
I know that for business, certainty and predictability is key.
The Protocol does offer significant trade, business and employment opportunities for Northern Ireland.
Business recognises this.
Indeed, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce’s own survey of members in July of this year found that two thirds of firms believe that Northern Ireland’s unique status post EU exit presents opportunities for the region.
These opportunities are no accident. They are a positive consequence for Northern Irish business of the long and difficult negotiations on the Protocol.
Realising these opportunities – in trade and investment – should be thefocus of all in this room, and we are ready to work with you in this.
I would like to come back now to the Shared Island initiative and our National Development Plan, published at the beginning of this week.
A year ago, I launched the Irish Government’s Shared Island initiative. This is focused on bringing us together, across communities and traditions on this island, by working on common concerns for our shared future, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.
This demands not just concerted whole of government action, but committed whole of society engagement.
And it requires us to focus our relationships – North/South and East-West – so that we act with greatest collective impact.
The revised National Development Plan published on Monday sets out a series of new Shared Island investment priorities out to 2030, across a range of sectors, with the goal of realising a more connected, more prosperous, and more sustainable island.
The Government has backed-up our all-island investment objectives by extending and doubling our commitment to the Shared Island Fund, now providing at least €1 billion out to 2030, ring-fenced for collaborative North/South projects.
We want to work with the Executive, through the North South Ministerial Council and with the UK Government to coordinate and optimise approaches for the island of Ireland as a whole.
On climate change, we have set out investment priorities in the NDP to:
- Deliver the North/South Interconnector, which will enhance the Single Electricity Market and facilitate the integration of renewable electricity into the power system;
- Support cross-border climate action partnerships and interventions;
- Invest in coordinated roll-out of Electric Vehicle charging networks across the island; and,
- Explore cross-border approaches on renewable energy.
And more broadly, for a sustainable island, we have affirmed objectives to:
- Invest for an all-island circular economy;
- Conserve border region peatlands, as valuable ecosystems and carbon sinks;
- Support more all-island biodiversity initiatives;
- Creating an island-wide greenway network; and.
- Enhanced rail connectivity building on the all-island strategic rail review now underway
And this Plan provides the necessary ring-fenced resources to deliver our objectives.
The total all-island investment commitment out to 2030 is more than €3.5 billion, through the Shared Island Fund, the Project Ireland 2040 funds, the PEACE PLUS programme, and the Government’s annual support for North/South cooperation.
In addition to these substantial investment and cooperation commitments, our Shared Island initiative involves wide-ranging, published policy research and a programme of inclusive civic dialogue.
Tackling climate change, addressing the biodiversity crisis and conserving our common environment is a major focus.
A Shared Island Dialogue on Climate and Environment was held in February with participation by over 140 civil society groups, business and agriculture representatives, researchers, and environmental agencies, from North and South.
This event was a practical, forward-looking and evidence-based consultation.
Participants highlighted a strong desire for greater cooperation at all levels on environment and climate issues for the island.
And there were a range of positive, pragmatic and highly-informed suggestions on what that cooperation should and could encompass in the years ahead, such as:
- working together on the transition to renewable energy sources;
- more cross-border research on climate mitigation for the island;
- engaging and connecting communities on both sides of the border on climate action; and,
- developing shared values and all-island approaches to better protect biodiversity on the island.
Effectively tackling climate change demands that we marshal our financial resources, coordinate our policy interventions and work with common strategic purpose.
The Irish Government will keep working strenuously to that end: by listening to stakeholders across the island; by working with the Executive and with the UK Government; and by and seeking to harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement.
A sustainable, shared future for all on this island requires nothing less.
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