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#ClimateBill - Minister Noonan's Dail Speech

Today April 21st 2021, Minister Noonan welcomed the Climate Bill's introduction to the Dail with the following words.

"I am honoured to speak here today as the Climate Action Bill is introduced to the Dail.

This Bill represents a pivotal moment for our nation, for us as politicians, and for me on a personal level. Some weeks ago I was going through old boxes and found election literature from the first time I campaigned for a seat on Kilkenny City and Borough Council. This was in 2004. On the back of the leaflet, I’d written:

“As I watch my young baby son Colm grow up so fast, I wonder what our city will be like for him in 10 or even 20 years’ time. The future I want for him is the future I want for you and your families. You can help me shape that future.”

Our shared future. Little did I know…

My eldest son is now 18, but I still wonder what our city, our country and indeed our world will be like for him and his three siblings 10 or 20 years from now. The difference today is that, standing here in the Dail as a Minister of State, having worked at the grassroots for almost all of my professional life, I can rest that little bit easier in the midst of all the uncertainty of this world because I know that, with this Bill, we are putting into law the promise that our shared future is one that we will be proud for them to inherit. This Dail has done that.

Some of us have been on this journey for many decades. Others have joined in recent years, or even months. It doesn’t matter. We’re here now, together, and we – along with all of the NGOs, the young activists, the scientists, the advocates in our communities – can all feel proud for bringing our country to this important point in its history.

This Bill represents the achievement of so much, but we must remember - it is a first step towards achieving our national climate objective. There is still so much to do. Not least within my own area of responsibility – nature, wildlife and biodiversity.

The climate crisis and the crisis in the natural world are intrinsically linked. Climate change causes biodiversity loss through droughts, floods, fires, changes in the distribution of species, the spread of pests, diseases and invasives, and ecological disruption in terms of the timing of the growing season, bud burst, fruit ripening, egg laying and hatching, and migration. Biodiversity loss also causes climate change: decades of wetland drainage for peat extraction and inappropriate afforestation have resulted in degraded bogs that actually emit carbon instead of store it.

But while the problems are linked, so too are the solutions. As the Bill makes clear in its reference to biodiversity richness in the national climate objective, and its regard to the protection and restoration of nature, we can’t have one without the other. After all, nature is what regulates the climate.

Nature is a vital ally in terms of climate mitigation and balancing Ireland’s carbon budget. Degraded ecosystems emit carbon, but we are reversing that flow by growing a restoration economy that leverages public investment and the innovative financial mechanisms to generate labour-intensive, rural employment in improving ecosystem health to support carbon sequestration and storage.

We’re seeing unprecedented investment in the restoration and rehabilitation of raised bogs across the Midlands, and the economic multipliers that come along with that. This is very good news: for the climate, yes, but also for water, for wildlife and for communities. And as we’re finding through NPWS Living Bog Project, it’s working – the positive changes in habitat condition are happening before our very eyes and I’d be delighted to show you all when it’s safe to travel. These results are particularly encouraging as we develop the restoration economy, and look ahead to other habitats in need of similar attention, such as upland blanket bogs, grasslands and coastal zones.

But it goes further than that. We are already seeing the effects of climate change in Ireland, and it’s important that we remember - nature is our first and best line of defence against a changed climate.

Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to the extreme weather events climate change is bringing, helping to protect communities, crops and infrastructure from devastating natural disasters like flooding, landslides and droughts. Nature-based solutions meanwhile, with co-benefits for biodiversity, are vitally important tools in enhancing liveability, in our cities in particular. The evidence is clear: healthy nature must be at the heart of Ireland’s approach to climate adaptation.

Ireland’s farmers, foresters, fishers, planners and engineers will play a key role in the delivery of these objectives, and it’s our job as policy makers to design systems that define, incentivise and support the outcomes we want to see. There are challenges ahead, no doubt.

· The designation of Protected Areas, particularly in the marine environment, is an urgent priority in terms of aligning renewable energy policy with biodiversity objectives.

· The schemes embedded in the Common Agricultural Policy and Ireland’s Strategic Plan are a critical tool in making agriculture a driver of biodiversity enhancement by rewarding farmers appropriately to deliver real results for nature.

· The design of a new vision for forestry where the right tree is in the right place, with the right management, presents a significant opportunity to create multifunctional forests that have benefits for nature, both on land and in our streams, rivers and lakes.

Overcoming these challenges will be no small task, but through cross-Departmental collaboration, policy alignment, integrated approaches and community engagement, we can deliver multiple benefits, both financial and non-financial, for the economy, society and the environment.

It’s worth noting the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, which is unequivocal in its assessment of the intrinsic links between climate and biodiversity. It says:

“Protecting and restoring wetlands, peatlands and coastal ecosystems, and sustainably managing marine areas, forests, grasslands and agricultural soils, will be essential for emission reduction and climate adaptation.”

The scale of its ambition for the protection and restoration of nature across the European Union is unprecedented and will contribute significantly to the development of the post-2020 Global Framework for Biodiversity, which will be finalised at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of the Parties in Kunming, China, later this year. This conference will set the trajectory of our work over the next 30 years to 2050.

I often reflect on the extraordinary task ahead of us as I cycle in to Leinster House in the mornings and, yes, sometimes it can feel daunting. Little if nothing has changed for the good in the thirty years between my first day under Kilkenny’s Town Hall as a climate campaigner and the day last year when, on my way in to a Council meeting, I met the two young climate activists who sat every Friday at the same Town Hall gates. The next thirty years simply has to be different, vastly different. I promised those young people that day that we would do our best; and I intend to keep that promise.

The world is mobilising for change, and with this Bill, Ireland is placing itself at the heart of a global movement. For my part, I will be collaborating with my colleagues across Government, and indeed across the Oireachtas, to ensure that Ireland seizes the opportunity to create the shared future the next generation deserves."


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