I thank the Cathaoirleach and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Julie Murphy and I am a 16-year-old climate activist representing Clare Comhairle Na nÓg. With today’s theme being youth perspectives on climate challenges, I believe that the perspective of young people is clear, with thousands of us in Ireland alone tackling this climate crisis right now. Climate action is not an option for us. It is a necessity, because our Earth is being destroyed and our futures are being erased. We cannot let that happen. Every day, we hear of the consequences of the climate crisis, which is a human-made problem: the rising temperatures, fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, people struck by poverty, more climate refugees, inequalities being exacerbated, another species extinct, and more deaths.
Contrarily, we also hear of record levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, of new fossil fuel stations being built, and of no action being taken. I wonder what prevents action against this crisis from being taken? Why are young people leading the change and not all generations, all of society and all the people in power? The conclusion, I discovered, is costs. When the climate crisis is mentioned, it is the negative costs, the finance, the deficits and the impact on the economy that are the main concerns. As a result, this prevents action. In the hope of actions transpiring from this speech, I will talk about this topic of costs and finance.
Short-term economic gains and an unsustainable economic model of growth at all costs blinkers us to the disaster we are hurtling towards. We must remove these blinkers and face up to the actions we must take to tackle this crisis. A crucial to reach Ireland’s climate targets and goals in a just way is equitable investment. Ireland needs to transition to a stage where sustainability and a greener way of living are the cheaper options, thereby becoming the more desired and the default options. At the moment, this transition to a sustainable, greener way of living is a privilege that only some can afford. For example, if you want to install solar panels on a house, the average cost is close to €8,000, with the support of Government grants included. With the typical earnings of an Irish person annually being almost €40,000, people would have to spend 20% of their yearly earnings just on solar panels. Households do not have this money to spare, because they are struggling to afford rising fuel costs, energy bills and surging costs of living. The expensive cost of choosing the greener options leaves people reluctant to do so and leaves those who cannot afford it behind.
In 2020, there were almost 700,000 people living in poverty in Ireland, with disadvantaged populations who are already facing inequalities making up a large percentage of this huge number. These inequalities prevent people from being involved in this sustainable transition and leave them vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. This needs to be solved. We cannot accept as normal 700,000 people languishing in poverty. Working to eradicate poverty, providing grants to support lower income households and ensuring people facing inequality are included in these constructive climate dialogues so that their voices are heard are only some solutions.
We as Irish people have many advantages when tackling this climate crisis. We are a small country, we are surrounded by renewable energies from the wind and ocean, we have the money to invest compared with other countries, we have the will of the people, and we have a rich history of resilience, innovation and creation to support us. Think of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station being built in County Clare in the 1920s. We can lead, encourage other countries to follow, and support developing countries in this transition. There are many immediate solutions available to us to ensure Ireland can transition to a sustainable, green and net zero way of life. Investing in renewable energies, supporting technological creations, banning single-use plastics, ensuring businesses are choosing sustainability, supporting farmers and fishers in their transition to greener methods, protecting biodiversity, and providing grants and tax breaks to assist people are only a few examples.
The climate action fund is an essential step in the right direction for investing, and it has the potential to support Ireland in our transition and achieving our climate targets, with €500 million being provided from 2018 to 2027. However, to achieve successfully this sustainable transition and our climate targets and to support all the sectors of our society along the way, the amount provided by this fund would need to be increased by a factor of ten. If we do not invest the money in this sustainable transition, we will face great economic costs regardless.
From 2014 to 2018, we spent €101 million in response to extreme weather events across Ireland, weather events that will only get worse. If we do invest the money into this transition preventatively, we can avoid costs like these and future expected costs. For example, by planting hundreds of thousands of native trees, the soil would be healthier so agriculture could flourish. There would be more animal habitats so native species could thrive. The air would be cleaner, the trees would provide a cooling effect, and carbon would be captured from the atmosphere. Just by planting trees, the expected costs from agriculture, animal protection, air cleaning, home cooling, public health and carbon capture would all be decreased.
This climate crisis is a rare chance for us all to right our wrongs, to tackle the inequalities of our world and to return balance to the chaos we have caused. This transition to a better world is already happening as many people and sectors of society are changing. It is time we all make the changes needed - now, together - for a better world for all. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.