Minister's Opening Speech at Convergence Symposium

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Opening of the 2008 Convergence Symposium. 5th April 2008
Skilling Up for Powerdown by Minister for the Environment, John Gormley.

This is the text of Minister John Gormley’s opening address that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government sent us over. Unfortunately he strayed form his script a little on the day so his interest in funding Transition initiatives in Ireland is not included here. 


John Gormley Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

I am delighted to be here this morning to open the 2008 Convergence Symposium: Skilling Up for Powerdown. 

Cultivate must be congratulated for putting together an impressive programme and list of speakers. The Symposium is part of the Cultivate Convergence Festival, which kicked off on Thursday with Daniel Lerch’s ideas on “Rethinking the City for an Uncertain Future” and continued yesterday with the “Rethinking the City Conference”.  I am pleased to see that the Convergence Festival does not actually “converge” in Dublin but also extends out to Cloughjordan where a series of events takes place on Monday outlining a practical response for Ireland to oil depletion and climate change. 

Approaching the end of the first decade of the 21st century, humanityis presented with a range of perplexing challenges.  These range fromcultural and religious divisions to massive technological advances,from climate change to globalisation and they include a whole range ofenvironmental crises that threaten the very survival of majorecosystems.   It is not difficult to see why many people feel we mightbe plunged into a new Dark Age. But there is another side. We are aningenious and resourceful species and we have the wherewithal toaddress many of the problems we have created.

Modern societies have become dependent on high energy use which in turnhas had a very significant impact on the environment.  Modernindustrialised, urbanised, high technology, mass consumption societiesare totally dependent on high energy use. There is little doubt thatthe world is entering a new stage in its energy history characterisedby the beginning of the end of the great oil-based energy boom.  Since1870, more oil has been extracted each year than has been discovered. Some analysts consider that perhaps 90% of discoverable oil in theworld has already been found. Some argue that peak oil is upon us orhas already passed.  A decline in natural gas output will occur inconjunction with the fall in oil production.  This will greatlyexacerbate the problems that will have to be faced. 

john_gormley_td2.jpgThe huge increase in energy consumption in the last 200 years hasincreased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by more than 40% overthis period.  The figure continues to rise.  Our understanding of thescience of climate change is that a rise beyond an average of twodegrees Celsius will pose significant risks to human societies andecosystems.  A fundamental problem in dealing with climate change isthat there is no easy technological fix.

It is in this context of peak oil and climate change that Cultivate hasdeveloped its Powerdown Programme which helps people respond to thechallenges presented.   The Powerdown Programme seeks to improveawareness and understanding of critical issues thus facilitating actionand strategic changes towards sustainable development.  Knowledge ofpractical and appropriate responses is of crucial importance to localauthorities, community partnerships and civil society organisations. The Programme aims to provide citizens and community leaders with anunderstanding of the global context as well as a range of practicalmeasures they can take to cut carbon emissions and the tools they canuse to help make their communities more sustainable.

There is a very close linkage between Cultivate’s work in this area andthe “Transition Towns” concept which it is currently developing at asignificant rate.  This concept was developed by permaculture designerRob Hopkins and students in Kinsale. It has spread to Britain,Australia and New Zealand in a very short space of time.  TheTransition model involves communities coming together to find ways ofdealing with Peak Oil and Climate Change through localising foodproduction, developing renewable energy sources, building withsustainable natural materials and enhancing regional economies.  Itoperates on the principle that communities take responsibility for theproblems themselves and try to develop their own solutions.

The Powerdown Programme has been developed alongside the ‘TransitionTowns’ initiative and fully supports its aims of reducing carbonemissions and building local resilience.  To promote the initiative inIreland, Cultivate is coordinating a network of communities engaged inthe process. This network will be one of the principal ways to promoteand disseminate the Powerdown programme and will facilitatecommunication, co-ordination and exchange of good practice in Ireland,both North and South. 

A key theme in the Cultivate Programme is the need for action at alllevels.  I would like, therefore, to say a brief word about someactivities being pursued at government level. Tackling the issue ofclimate change is a key government priority.  The Programme forGovernment emphasises its commitment to taking the necessary action. We have agreed to set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions byan average of 3% per year over its lifetime and we must plan for themeasures required to meet the EU target for 2020 and beyond. 

It will not be an easy target to achieve, but already, I haveintroduced the State’s first ever carbon budget last December which setout indicative additional saving of 600,000 tonnes of CO2 from measuresannounced since the publication of the National Climate ChangeStrategy. Both the Motor Tax and Vehicle Registration Tax regimes willbe completely based on the CO2 emissions for new vehicles from 1 Julynext.  These changes will be accompanied by a new labelling requirementfor cars that will help to ensure the consumer is fully informed aboutthe environmental and cost implications of choosing a particular car.

At the end of 2007, I introduced regulations to significantlystrengthen the energy efficiency requirements for new homes, deliveringenergy and emissions savings of 40% on the previous standard.  Myambition is to increase building energy efficiency by 60% by 2010, butI also believe that we can go to zero carbon emission by 2016 and it ismy firm intention to do so. The building industry has reacted verypositively to these changes and I look forward to their continuedengagement with me in this area.

I have set out my intention to put in place strict national standardsfor domestic  lighting which will be the first of their kind in Europe.

In February I published draft Planning Guidelines on SustainableResidential Development in Urban Areas. These guidelines are intendedto act as a blueprint for the future sustainable development of Irishcities, towns and villages in the coming years.

Our policies on the conservation of biodiversity set out in the 2002National Biodiversity Plan are making good progress but it is clearthat we need to be more ambitious if we are to meet the EU target.  MyDepartment is currently beginning the preparation of a revised NationalBiodiversity Plan which will cover the five-year period 2008-2012.

As I have already said, it is not enough for Government to imposesolutions from above.  The Change Campaign emphasises the Government’sview that we need to build a national movement to address climatechange at all levels of our economy and our society. It emphasises theneed for behaviours to change and will provide the public with themotivation, information and tools needed to lower and avoid emissionsof greenhouse gases in their lives.  Our plan is to work closely witheach sector in the economy, public, private and voluntary, and withcommunities and individual to create change.  The central theme of thecampaign is a challenge to change the way we think about climate changewhen it comes to travel, work, business , home and leisure.

The campaign is being brought to the public through TV, Radio andoutdoor advertising, and web-based resources. A Comprehensive programmeof stakeholder engagement will dive behaviour change throughout oursociety.. I will give a more detailed address on climate change and theChange campaign at my address as part of the EPA series on Tuesdayevening. I hope that many of you will be able to make it.

There is a vital role for individuals and communities, however small,to meet the challenges of climate change and fossil fuel reliancetogether.  People such as yourselves, will lead change and encourageothers to follow and I commend you in your endeavours..


At this stage it only remains for me to wish you well with theweekend’s proceedings.  Thank you for yourattention.                                            

Press Release

Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage andLocal Government today (Saturday 5 April) launched the “Skilling Up forPowerdown” Symposium in the Cultivate Centre, Temple Bar.  TheSymposium is part of Cultivate’s Convergence Sustainable LivingFestival, which takes place over the weekend.  The Festival is thethirteenth organised by Cultivate and centres on the theme of PostCarbon Cities, Transition Towns and Eco-Villages.  “A key theme in theCultivate Programme is the need for action at all levels” Mr. Gormleysaid. “There is a vital contribution to be made by individuals andcommunities, however small, in meeting the challenges of climate changeand over reliance on fossil fuels.  Tackling the issue of climatechange is a key government priority.  The National Climate ChangeStrategy and the Joint Programme for Government emphasises ourcommitment to taking the necessary action.  He went on to say that “theChange  Campaign,   the Government’s public awareness andcommunications campaign , emphasises the need for behaviour change andthe Government plans is to work closely with each sector in theeconomy, both public and private and with communities and individualsto create change.”   Programmes such as Powerdown which has beendeveloped alongside the “Transition Town” initiative fully support theaim of reducing carbon emissions and building local resilience.