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Minister Hogan honours Tyndall at opening of special climate science conference

28 Sep 2011

Speech by Mr. Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and & Local Government

Opening of the Tyndall Conference, organised by the Environmental Protection Agency & The Royal Irish Academy

Dublin Castle, 28th September 2011

 

Introduction

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to join you this morning, and honoured to have been invited by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Royal Irish Academy to open this very special conference to celebrate the scientific legacy of John Tyndall

Among an impressive range of scientific interests and achievements, it was Tyndall's pioneering work on the science of climate change that provided the foundation for his powerful legacy. As we mark the 150th anniversary of the ground-breaking scientific paper which he published in 1861, a true testimony to Tyndall's contribution to climate protection is reflected in the ongoing work of international recognised institutions such as the Tyndall Institute for Climate Change Research in the UK, the new Fudan Tyndall Centre in Shanghai, and the Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork here in Ireland. "Fudan", literally meaning "heavenly light shines day after day", indicates inexhaustible self-reliance and industriousness. An exceptionally apt choice.

I want to extend a special welcome to the Directors of the Tyndall Institutes both in the UK and here at home.

John Tyndall was originally from the village of Leighlinbridge in County Carlow, which is part of the constituency which I have the privilege to represent in Dáil Eireann - the national Parliament here in Ireland. As well as his scientific interests, John Tyndall was a mountaineer and he is remembered as one of the 'greats' of the Golden Age of Mountaineering. My native county of Kilkenny honoured him some thirty years ago with the establishment of the Tyndall Mountain Club. The curiosity which inspired Tyndall's scientific work on the composition of the atmosphere and effects of human interaction was clearly matched by a fascination to, with the earthly creations of nature.

But it is John Tyndall the scientist on which we focus today and, by any standards, he was a truly great scientist. Well recognised in his time, I understand that he was a somewhat controversial figure who did not shy away from expressing his views. A resolute scientist, he aimed to solve problems in a practical manner.

I welcome the opportunity which the anniversary of Tyndall's paper presents to focus on his contribution to the international climate change agenda as we know it today. I want to extend a warm welcome to representatives from both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Respectively, your organisations represent two key elements of Tyndall's legacy - the authoritative assessment of the science of climate change, and the framework for international policy development.

Science, and policy informed by science, provided the foundation for both the ultimate objective expressed in Article 2 of the 1992 Convention, to prevent dangerous climate change, and the ongoing international efforts to mobilise an effective global response. I am sure that John Tyndall would be impressed by the extent to which his fundamental findings have been advanced, and justifiably proud of the breadth and robustness of the scientific advice which now informs international policy development. He would surely marvel at the broad level of communication on climate change, and the general awareness of both the issues and the threat which the warming of our planet presents for present and future generations.

But how would he react to recent efforts to mobilise an effective global response to the scientific advice on climate change? Not very well, I suspect!

International Policy

On that note, I think it is worth reflecting briefly on the current state of play in the international process under the Convention and the prospects for progress at the Conference of the Parties in South Africa later this year.

The EU recognises the clear and strong scientific advice from the IPCC and recognises the need for a comprehensive, global response to climate change. It has endorsed the Panel's assessment of the level of action required from both developed and developing countries, and set the mitigation parameters identified in the Fourth Assessment Report as the basis for achievement of ambitious shared goal of ensuring that global average temperature increase is kept below two degree Celsius. Since the Cancun Conference of the Parties, this is also a global goal.

EU commitment to an effective, long-term global response informed by science is evident in the Climate and Energy Package adopted in December 2008, and the more recent Communication from the European Commission on "A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050. Ireland has consistently supported EU ambition and leadership on climate policy, both in relation to framing the internal European agenda and to the positive influence which the EU seeks to bring to the wider international process under the Convention.

Almost two years ago, expectations of an international breakthrough were high in advance of the 15th conference of the Parties in Copenhagen. Relative to expectations, the final outcome was disappointing but the Copenhagen Accord opened up a new, and possibly more realistic opportunity to refocus the international agenda on an incremental approach.

The Cancun Agreements represent an important step forward. As well as the importance of the key outcomes on a shared long-term vision, mitigation pledges and establishment of the Green Climate Fund, the success of the Cancun conference reaffirmed the central role of the multilateral process in responding to climate change.

The challenge which the Parties now face is to build on that progress at the Durban conference later this year. Difficult political issues remain to be addressed, not least in relation to the legal form of a future international agreement, the timeframe for agreement and the need for mitigation action commensurate with the ultimate objective of the Convention. In addition, Parties face the formidable task of avoiding a 'gap' in the international response to climate change when the commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires in December 2012.

I believe there can be no doubt about the importance of a substantial incremental step forward at the Durban conference. The scientific advice is clear and the impacts of global warming are increasingly evident, particularly in African countries where many people are already on the climate frontline. History will not be kind to the representatives of the Parties if the conference fails to take the process definitively closer to a global and comprehensive legally-binding framework.

National Policy

In Ireland, we are committed to playing our part in the overall level of mitigation to be achieved by developed countries. We have made good progress in recent years and we are on course to meet our target for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol. However, based on the advice from the IPCC, we are in no doubt about the level of future mitigation requirements - not just in the period to 2020 but in the longer-term to 2050.

We have a somewhat unique emissions profile in a European context. A major contributory factor is a large agriculture sector relative to the size of our economy and a consequent high level of agriculture-related emissions.

As a food producing country, we are increasingly concerned about the relationship between international climate policy, and agriculture and food production. We are looking forward to agreement at the Durban conference on a proposed programme of work on agriculture, to be undertaken by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. The key objective of this programme of work will be to enhance our understanding of the contribution of agriculture to global mitigation and its adaptation needs, taking into account the major synergies that exist between these two key responses to climate change for this sector. Advancing this is therefore central to the objective of the UNFCCC which aims to ensure "that food production is not threatened"

The longer-term path to a competitive, low-carbon economy presents a major challenge for Ireland but we tend to see it as an even greater opportunity for new and more sustainable growth. Like many other countries, the global economic downturn has created enormous short-term difficulties for Ireland. As we work to overcome these difficulties, we are determined to avoid returning to a "business as usual" carbon-intensive scenario. Our future must be built around a society that is more sustainable in both economic and environmental terms. As we learn more about the green economy and its objectives, we appreciate that long-term economic and environmental sustainability are complementary rather than mutually exclusive objectives.

Global transition to a low carbon future is both essential and inevitable. We have options in terms of how we react and I strongly believe in a proactive approach in which we determine our own course of transition - a course in which we embrace change, and focus on identifying new and exciting opportunities for social and economic development. In meeting our mitigation commitments, our aim is to position Ireland among the progressive leading countries in the low-carbon global economy of tomorrow. Scientific research will be an essential platform for this and your deliberations here in Dublin Castle provide welcome additional inspiration in the pursuit of our national objectives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, the international climate process is at a critical juncture in its history. In spite of welcome progress at the Cancun conference in 2010, no one should underestimate the enormity of the task which Parties face in finding agreement on a significant step forward in Durban later this year.

Our greatest strength in finding that agreement lies in the fact that the threat of climate change is now well understood, and the required responses from developed and developing countries are clear. The low-carbon agenda is increasingly seen as a new and exciting opportunity from many perspectives, not least in terms of economic competitiveness in the emerging global green economy. And thankfully, the arguments against taking early and effective global action are increasingly exposed and rapidly evaporating.

The Copenhagen conference in 2009 was a brave attempt to respond to the scientific and economic advice in a single, comprehensive step. The outcome was a missed opportunity that must not be repeated. I cannot tell you what will happen at the Durban conference but I can tell you what must not happen; the blame for any further delay in moving towards agreement on a comprehensive global response to climate change must not be directed at the scientific advice. The anticipated fifth assessment report must be respected as the basis for further progress in the second half of the current decade - not an excuse to delay decisions that should be taken now.

I am delighted to welcome all of you to Ireland and I hope you enjoy your time here in Dublin. In the spirit of John Tyndall, I encourage you to pursue your work with determination and, if necessary, a vigorous defence against any attempt to use your findings as an excuse for delay rather than a catalyst for greater action.

See more information about the conference and Tyndall's pioneering work.

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