Speaking as he arrived in New York for a UN Summit on climate change, Leo Varadkar said Ireland will become one of the first countries in the world to phase out the exploration of oil.

Mr Varadkar has also confirmed that all extra funds collected through controversial carbon taxes will be ring-fenced and used for environmental measures.

He has now ruled out any dividend option which would have seen households receive cheques in the post. Mr Varadkar said this option is too costly and difficult to introduce.

On ending oil exploration, he said the fossil fuel is “incompatible with a low-carbon future” and the Government will now be following the advice of the Climate Advisory Council which recommended a phasing out.

However, Mr Varadkar clarified to the UN that “in practice and initially it means a moratorium on exploration in 80% of our waters”.

“We will end exploration for oil in Irish waters, we will continue to explore for natural gas given that it’s a transition fuel that we are going to need for the next few decades as new technologies are developed and deployed,” he said.

What we’re doing in exploration is a big move too, [we are] one of the few countries in the world now to make the decision to start phasing out exploration for oil and gas, precisely because we’re committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“I want Ireland to be known as a green country because of how we respond to the climate and environmental challenges facing our planet. Leadership is required to take action.”

It was also noted that, in keeping with climate change theme of the summit, Mr Varadkar travelled to New York in economy class on an Aer Lingus flight.

Mr Varadkar told the UN.

Before his address, the Taoiseach told reporters that it is “disappointing” that US president Donald Trump, who has long been sceptical of climate change, would not attend the full summit.

Instead, Mr Trump is attending another event where he gave a speech on religious freedom and global persecution against believers. Mr Trump did make a surprise but brief appearance at the meeting — he showed up for approximately 10 minutes before leaving again.

Mr Varadkar promised to ringfence all extra money raised through the carbon tax for climate action and a just transition. The Government has already indicted that carbon taxes will be increased by as much as €10 in next month’s budget.The Government had also been considering a refund system which would see households get a cheque back in the post, however, this option has now been ruled out.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had “considered” the fee and dividend model but ruled it out.

“Like the water conservation grant, it’s quite expensive to administer,” he said. “And there are a number of downsides to it as well, in terms of determining how much each household will get for example.

So it can be done but it’s quite expensive to do it, quite tricky. So the alternative that we went for was to give the money back to people in a different way, to give the money back to people in communities, specifically to take actions that will reduce our emissions.

“So for example, you know, insulation, LED lighting, greener farming, renewable energy, all of those things, and we think on balance, that’s the right way to go.”

Asked whether there will be any increase to the fuel allowance in the upcoming budget, he said the ringfenced money from carbon taxes will include measures for a just transition.

“So that’s helping people who may lose their jobs in old industries to find new ones and it also means protecting those most vulnerable to fuel poverty, from increased energy charges,” said Mr Varadkar.

“So that would include, for example, the possibility of an increase in the fuel allowance. All that has to be worked out and finalised on budget day, and budget announcements will be made on budget day.”

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton also travelled to New York ahead of the summit and had a number of bilateral meetings with international colleagues on environmental issues.

By Elaine Loughlin
Political Correspondent – Irish Examiner

Monday, September 23, 2019 – 08:56 PM

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