Green Deal stimulus plan will stave off green-tech failures

18 Feb 2010

The green economy should not be viewed as a short-term answer to Ireland’s economic problems – failures will happen and we need to show greater risk tolerance for start-ups.

The green economy should be seen in the context of our long-term sustainability. That’s according to Prof Frank Convery, chairperson of Comhar Sustainable Development Council, in his address to the 20th Irish Environmental Researchers’ Colloquium, which is running in Limerick this week.

“There is a danger that the notion of Ireland’s green economy will be seen as a panacea for our current economic ills, so when green business failures happen – as they inevitably will – confidence will be damaged,” Convery said.

“This would be detrimental to meeting our long-term sustainability needs.

“As the numbers of green start-ups grow, we need to tolerate failure: as with all business, green business carries significant risk. Political leaders and economic commentators need to acknowledge that success is not possible without failure, and the environment needs to be created to facilitate green business development so that we can achieve the best possible outcomes.

“The green economy is not a quick fix for our country’s current ills. Rather, it is a long-term solution for the challenge posed by climate change, which offers economic returns and enhanced quality of life as a spin-off.”

‘Green’ companies in Ireland

Convery said there was now an impressive array of companies operating in the green economy in Ireland, ranging from indigenous start-ups to State-owned and multinational companies. The energy sector is increasingly being populated by businesses capitalising on innovations around wind, wave and solar technologies.

He said other enterprises are concentrating on low-carbon technologies, such as in aircraft emission reduction and low-carbon cement production.

“While green innovation is currently concentrating on the obvious areas of carbon reduction, a further area of business development lies in meeting our demographic needs into the future. With our ageing population, the market for new technologies – such as robotics – will rise, as will the requirements for medicines and suitable accommodation,” said Convery.

“To take full advantage of the opportunities still ahead, research and development that leads to innovation and enterprise must be prioritised. Unless we make this investment, Ireland will become an importer of green technologies and the opportunity to become a leader will be missed.”

Ireland makes headway on greening its economy

Convery said Ireland was starting to make some progress on greening the economy.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the recently introduced carbon tax now provide some price certainty across industry and in the non-trading sectors. This means that – on a daily basis – the market now knows that reduced emissions will be rewarded financially and rising emissions will be penalised. Businesses can respond and adapt to this, and will be incentivised towards rewards.”

Convery outlined how, by implementing a Green New Deal, Ireland could put in place the effective infrastructure to capitalise on a green economy.

Comhar Sustainable Development Council published its framework for a Green New Deal in 2009, and will be presenting plans for its further implementation over the coming months.

“One of the critical components of a successful Green New Deal for Ireland would be investment, and Comhar SDC estimates that €3.7 billion should be ear-marked for green stimulus packages,” said Convery.

“This is significantly less than the amount of taxpayers’ money that was used to recapitalise AIB and Bank of Ireland, and is almost the same as our annual fossil fuel bill. While finding the money is a short-term challenge, a green stimulus package would create jobs and save on our carbon bill into the future.”

‘Green’ job creation

Under a Green New Deal, Comhar SDC envisages job creation in the areas of renewable energy, green technology, tourism and agriculture. “Wind energy, retrofitting our housing stock and the delivery of more green public services can all produce jobs for this and future generations.

“However, it’s vital that we have the skills set to take advantage of the green wave, and this is why upskilling and research and development must concentrate on the green, smart economy,” said Convery.

“A Green New Deal for Ireland requires a paradigm shift in how we produce and consume. If we make that shift, we can create jobs that will last and are not dependent on a property bubble; we can build communities where the quality of housing and services do not disadvantage people, and we can hugely reduce our energy consumption so that we are not over-reliant on fuel imports to keep our economy moving.

“The implementation of a Green New Deal requires political leadership and engagement with citizens. It’s an opportunity for Ireland to create a sustainable model economy,” he added.

Report by Comhar SDC

Comhar SDC’s report, ‘Towards a Green New Deal for Ireland’, was published in October 2009. Comhar SDC has commissioned further research on the skills and training required for the sustainable jobs of the future, and this will be published in the coming months.

Convery made his remarks as part of a panel discussion on the topic of ‘The Green Economy – Opportunity or Threat to Ireland’ held during the 20th Irish Environmental Researchers’ Colloquium, which is running until Friday, 19 February in Limerick.

It is an initiative of the Limerick Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the Environmental Science Association of Ireland (ESAI). It is Ireland’s largest annual environmental conference, and aims to link environmental researchers with important environmental issues and concerns.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years