Post-EU Council Statements

Post-EU Council Statements

I will pick up on a point that Deputy Paul Murphy raised and with which I agree. COP26 failed to agree a facility on loss and damage. It is the central issue of COP27, which is taking place in Africa geographically approximate to the terrible catastrophe playing out in the Horn of Africa. News has just broke that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has been appointed the EU’s lead negotiator on loss and damage, which is the central and most contentious issue of COP27. That is a tribute to the Minister.

More importantly, it speaks to the quality of the Irish negotiators and diplomatic staff who are out there attending. It shows the importance of having people attend this conference.

The previous meeting of the European Council happened in the shadow of the climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is next to impossible to talk about one thing without speaking about the other. I very much welcome that the Taoiseach spoke about his participation in and contribution to COP27. I agree with Deputy Paul Murphy that it was a very fine speech. I also agree with the Deputy that we must live up to those words if they are to have any meaning at all.

I have seen criticism in some quarters about participation in structures such as COP. I have been critical of the mechanisms of the international structures of COP, the UN and the EU in the context of how unwieldy they are and the internal politics involved, including those relating to vested interests and bad faith actors. There is a lot of truth in those criticisms. I can kind of understand how some people would say “Okay, should we walk away from these types of structures? Should we take a step back from international action and multilateralism?” I am reminded of an address given by President Higgins in October 2019, when he said:

There is a moral basis to those who are protesting to those who would like a communitarian new beginning, but I believe that to walk away from the State would be a tragic error […] Obviously, of course, to rely entirely on advocacy directed at the State, and to neglect the possibilities and promise of alternatives within civil society would be a disastrous choice too.

Neither of those approaches is necessary. In fact, we need action at all effective levels, be it the multilateral structure of COP, at a national level or in our communities, and we must be able to relate that down into how we live our own lives. That does not mean for a moment that we should ignore the imperative to radically reform some of our international structures. I would make the argument that a flawed process is better than no process at all. As I said, we see in the appointment of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and by us participating in this process that hopefully we will get a positive outcome for what I believe is the defining issue of this COP.

The Taoiseach mentioned the food security crisis and, in particular, the unfolding catastrophe in the Horn of Africa. For the remainder of my contribution, I will dwell on the issue of food. As the Taoiseach noted, we are seeing hunger and energy being used as twin weapons in the context of the illegal war being waged in Ukraine. We have seen the reverberations of the shutdown of exports, in particular of wheat exports, from Ukraine and the impact this has on world commodity prices. As ever, and as it always was, it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most in these situations. I am aware that good work is happening at EU Council level around solidarity lanes, which were previously discussed, and good work has also been done in respect of supporting and improving export corridors. That work must continue.

I will address specifically the findings of a recent UN report on the opportunities for repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems. The report found that emissions-intensive and unhealthy commodities receive the most subsidy in the context of supports given and agricultural supports. The report found that it applies to products like sugar, which I suppose is no longer pertinent here in Ireland. As the Acting Chair, Deputy Verona Murphy, will be aware, it was very much an industry across Wexford, Waterford, and Carlow. Beef and milk get the greatest share of worldwide support despite the potentially negative impacts, not just on climate but also on health. The negative repercussions on climate are particularly relevant for high and upper-middle income countries that consume the most meat and dairy per capita. In the least developed countries, there is the opposite effect where cereals, including wheat, rice, and so on, are subsidised. This has negative impacts for biodiversity, climate adaptation, on-farm diversity and growth. It also has a knock-on consequence with regard to the nutritional value in people’s food. Looking at that report, we cannot ignore the messages this has for our agricultural system here. As has been stated, we cannot promise the earth, moon and stars, on the one hand and perpetuate a myth that we are feeding the world, on the other. We must be honest about that: we are feeding the developed world dairy and meat. That is the truth of it.

In that vein, but tangential, I acknowledge the work of organisations such as Community Gardens Ireland and GIY that encourage people to grow their own food. Indeed, Community Gardens Ireland, along with Social Farms and Gardens in Northern Ireland, has called today for people growing their own food to be recognised as a climate adaptation action. There are significant carbon savings for every kilo of our own food that we grow. It might be easy to cast down on that and to ignore the impact of that action. Even the IPCC has acknowledged that urban agriculture initiatives can assist with reducing greenhouse gases, improve urban food security, improve biodiversity and have positive impacts in the context of adapting to climate change. If it seems like a drop in the ocean and something that can be easily belittled, we must remember that the ocean is made up of drops. There must be something not just in our multilateral action and not just our national level action, but also at that community and individual level. Even if somebody growing the few spuds in the back garden is not the solution to climate change, sometimes the scale of the problem that faces us paralyses us. We must remember that sometimes the best antidote to despair is action, be they small actions in a person’s own life. Small actions can add up. We in the Green Party have always encouraged people to think globally and act locally, and this is one such way of doing so. Of course, all of these things must be rolled in together. We do need a combination of multilateralism, national ambition, community development and individual action if we are to have any hope at all of facing up to the existential crisis that we all accept we now face.