Dia daoibh ar maidin, a chairde. Cuireann sé an-áthas orm an chomhdháil seo faoin Athrú Aeráide i nGnólachtaí Turasóireachta a oscailt go hoifigiúil.
Thank you Paul Carty for your welcome. And my thanks also to CEO Paul Kelly for the invitation to open today’s conference. I must also commend Fáilte Ireland for its leadership in organising this event that will inform and inspire how we drive action on climate change in tourism businesses.
This conference with you all is timely for so many reasons. COP27 is taking place in Egypt where world leaders are seeking to accelerate climate action. There is a global energy crisis impacting our day-to-day lives and businesses. And at home, reforms for sectors to meet new emission ceilings will be decided shortly. Climate change impacts us all, there is no doubt about that.
Indeed, “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it,” as former US President Barack Obama once famously warned.
That is why we are here today. That is also why the Government has acted. Otherwise future generations won’t forgive us, as the Taoiseach warned at COP27.
In 2021, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act set legally binding emission reduction targets of 51% by 2030, and has committed Ireland to be climate neutral by 2050. We have fixed Sectoral Emissions Ceilings limiting greenhouse gas emissions for each economic sector.
The Tourism industry falls under a number of these sectoral emission ceilings. The transport sector, for example, will have to cut emissions by 50% while Commercial Buildings will see a 45% reduction, by 2030. The Climate Action Plan 2023 will be published next month and will set out the actions needed to keep our emissions under those ceilings.
Achieving these targets will present challenges. However, we are making available investments in retrofitting supports, which make businesses more energy efficient and help cut costs. There will also be further investment in improved public transport and new outdoor amenities, such as greenways, blueways and forests, which will create opportunities for more low-impact tourism.
Furthermore, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland already have a number of schemes to assist businesses. These include in areas such as retrofitting and renewable heating sources. I am however working with my colleague Minister Ryan and his Department to enhance and expand the level of supports that would apply across the tourism industry from accommodation providers to attraction operators and hope to have greater detail to share with the industry in the coming months. These will form part of a new Climate Action Fund early next year.
I am delighted to say that I secured €3million of additional funding in Budget 2023, to allow Fáilte Ireland to continue its work in the area of sustainability. I will continue to focus my efforts on how best my Department, the tourism agencies and all other relevant State agencies and Departments can best support tourism businesses as you play your part in delivering effective climate action.
From a policy perspective the programme for Government committed to the development of a Sustainable Tourism Policy, and in advance of this an Interim Action Plan. Just a year ago I welcomed the Interim Action Plan from the Sustainable Tourism Working Group and I am pleased that many of the actions recommended in that report are reflected in today’s conference.
To inform the new sustainable tourism policy we need to identify the key policy imperatives and establish a clear aspiration or vision statement for where our tourism sector needs to be by 2030 and beyond and how we can get there.
An initial informal consultation has commenced with key tourism stakeholders including leaders in the field of ecotourism and sustainable travel. This consultation will seek to glean thoughts on what the central components should be to shape the strategic direction of the new policy. I know many of you here today will be meeting with my officials in the coming weeks and I look forward to hearing your perspectives.
A key issue in the new national tourism policy will be the tourism sector’s contribution to meeting national and international policy commitments on climate action, including national emissions reduction requirements. In this regard the new policy will also have to consider how public investment can promote and support the development of a sustainable tourism sector.
As the themes of today’s conference make clear, building a sustainable business is good business. You will see from today’s presentations that there has been a growing realisation among tourism operators that sustainable practices were not necessarily a cost. Changing consumer preferences has led to many enterprises taking steps to make their offering more sustainable and generating more business as a result. It is clear, therefore, that the industry needs to continue moving in a sustainable direction – both because of the benefits to the environment and communities, but also to individual businesses. Over time, sustainability will become the norm and it will be those businesses not engaging which will be the outliers.
However, I am also acutely aware of the current challenges posed by the significant rise in operational business costs and the Government will continue to supporting you through this with the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS) and through practical supports delivered by the agencies.
The climate crisis is a monumental challenge, but it is one that we, if we are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and resolve, can overcome together and this is what today’s event is about – learning from each other and supporting one another with practical tools that will help businesses navigate the climate action journey. I want to welcome today, Fáilte Ireland’s new ‘Climate Action Roadmap’, with a suite of Climate Action Guides.
Some of these will help define the climate impact and carbon footprint of businesses, such as Energy Management; Waste Management; Water Management or Carbon Offsetting and Biodiversity.
For the first time ever, there will also be a carbon calculator in the tourism industry with the introduction today of the ClimateToolkit4Business, a reform originally recommended by a Sustainable Tourism Working Group set up by my Department.
This carbon calculator will set a baseline for carbon measurement from an Irish tourism perspective. The calculator allows businesses input simple information to get an estimate of their carbon footprint and a personalised action plan to reduce it. Each plan includes practical instructions and highlights help from state agencies.
As I’ve already highlighted, climate change is here, and its effects are devastating. We urgently need to adapt to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for a better future. Businesses, both small and large, have a part to play. From the products we purchase, to the energy we use, to the services we require, there are many ways to make a difference.
I want to reiterate how important this conference is, the first of its kind, with over 200 tourism businesses and their leaders coming together to consider how they will play a part in climate action.
There are indeed tourism businesses in Ireland already making progress in their climate action journeys. And this conference is designed to empower many others, and show them the opportunities there.
I cannot stay with you for the full conference. However I know that you will hear today from exemplars of good practice in promoting sustainable tourism and hear more about the exciting plans that Fáilte Ireland have to help you and your business to measure your carbon footprint as well details of climate action roadmaps. These are important building blocks on our climate action journey. It is a journey we must complete. Let me leave you with a point, made by world renowned scientist and conservation activist Dr Jane Goodall:
“What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Go raibh maith agaibh.