Dress well when you’re going bad

Moving the dial for climate action from talk to action and the need for every job to be a climate action job. 

By Harry O’Farrell, ActionZero Chief Commercial Officer 

When I look back to where my own career journey began in the electrical trades some 20 or so years ago, I had the privilege of working with what we call here in Ireland a character.

Billy was his name, he was a hard worker and an even harder drinker – fairly battered from decades in the trade, as tends to be the case with many tradesmen. He had an incredible ability to judge a person’s character, cutting through the bull, and seeing them for what they are.

Are they talking themselves up to be something greater than they are? Well as he used to say…  “dress well when you’re going bad.” 

Unfortunately, he passed away just over a year ago, and as with so many others who have passed during this horrible pandemic, we didn’t get the chance to give him a proper send-off. 

The send-off, or wake, is one of the things we do incredibly well in this country – family, friends and community coming together to celebrate someone’s life. 

We do many things well in this country, but also many not so well and when it comes to a firm commitment to climate action, unfortunately, our track record tells us it sits in the latter. 

 

It’s time to walk the walk

For too long when it comes to climate action we have talked the talk without walking the walk. Billy’s old saying is apt here, for sure we have been dressed well, but we were definitely going bad in terms of emissions reduction. 

This is evidenced by the fact we fell far short of our 2020 EU emissions reduction target of 20%, with approximately 7% realised. The drafting and publication of what is now the updated Climate Action Plan (CAP) is welcome from the government, as is the move to establish carbon budgets with individual sectoral targets across the economy. This commits Ireland to deliver a 51% emissions reduction by 2030, translating to an approximate 7% emissions reduction per year – the fact that emissions reduced by a meagre 3.6% in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic where we had greatly reduced economic activity puts in stark focus the challenge ahead of us. 

The CAP provides a good high-level plan – but it is just that, high-level. What is desperately needed now is the detail on how we will execute each and every action listed in the plan. The government deserve credit for the uptick in our national ambition when it comes to climate action,  but the fact remains it is the least we should be doing when it comes to the global emergency of our time. 

Innovation, boldness and bravery when it comes to taking risks, in any economy, has naturally enough tended to come from the private sector. Just looking through the lens of the Cork region alone we see an explosion of innovative climate action businesses bringing solutions to address a range of critical climate action challenges. 

For example in offshore wind, we see the likes of our sister company Green Rebel Marine, DP Energy and Simply Blue, all blazing a trail for the sector. In the Green Hydrogen sector we see the likes of another of our sister company’s EI-H2, seizing the first-mover advantage in what will be a key enabling sector for Ireland to achieve our renewables and climate action target and, of course, our own ActionZero at the demand side helping consumers in the industry, enterprise and consumer markets to address another great challenge in decarbonisation of heat, with our patented heat pump system, the EscoPod.

What we need now is for the policymakers, legislators, and regulators to at the very least match, if not exceed, the level of innovation and boldness in decision making evident in the private sector, and most of all to do it with 10x the speed and urgency we have seen to date – the enabling policy and regulatory framework needed to address the climate emergency is just not moving quickly enough today. 

The speed of decision making taken to tackle the Covid emergency provides a useful comparison – to put it simply, the climate emergency is not being viewed for what it is, an emergency for humanity. We can look to the progress made at COP26 to see how politics is stifling the speed at which we need to move. 

We must move faster

So what are the challenges, how can we address them, and what is the scale of the opportunity? 

The need for speed is evident when it comes to all things climate action – from policymakers, legislators, regulators, down to each and every business, organisation and citizen of the country. 

We need leadership and fast – we can see it starting to come from climate action businesses like our own in ActionZero, the others I have already mentioned here and many others. We can see it in a general business sense with many making commitments to science-based targets, climate neutrality and net-zero. We see it in Cork with our industry-specific energy cluster Energy Cork, we see it from the citizens of the country with the explosion of new Sustainable Energy Communities popping up in every region. Now we need to see that matched and exceeded by those tasked with providing the enabling policy and regulatory framework that supports and rewards committed climate action from those in business and society at large. It is starting to come but must move faster if we are to achieve our goals. 

One of the great challenges we face will be our ability to ensure we have sufficient numbers of skilled tradespeople and STEM professionals. We are at the start of the climate action journey and there is already a shortage and huge competition in the marketplace for skilled labour in these areas, we see it every day in our own business. 

Opportunity for Ireland Inc is enormous 

When I started out in the electrical trade all those years ago, I had no idea I would end up where I am today, working in climate action. But the reality is, every job now needs to be a climate action job – if we are to succeed we need to hugely increase the numbers of people opting for trades as a viable career path. These are the people who will install our solar PV panels, our heat pumps, our building fabric, our electric vehicle chargers, our offshore wind farms, and they will be key to every sector of society taking strong climate action. 

If we get it right, the scale of the opportunity for Ireland Inc is quite simply enormous. Our offshore wind sector, with enabling supporting sectors such as green hydrogen, if adequately supported will create many thousands of jobs in a new industry, positioning us as a global leader in the space and securing our energy independence. 

Tackling the many decarbonisation challenges such as decarbonising heat, deployment of distributed renewable generation, electrification of transport and others will mean we will create ten’s of thousands of high skilled climate action jobs in every region of Ireland – coupled with the advent of remote working, this will be a boon for regional and rural Ireland. 

And that’s just the job’s aspect, we will have cleaner air and water, and most of all a sustainable future for our children and future generations. ActionZero stand’s ready to play our part in this journey, we have already doubled our workforce, we will double again next year and the year after, and we are just one of many.   

For too long Ireland has been a laggard compared to our EU peers when it comes to progress on emissions reduction and climate action. I find myself wondering will Billy’s old saying still ring true about our progress come 2030, will we still be merely dressed well but going bad when it comes to climate action? I’m optimistic about our chances – but we need to be creative, innovative, bold and brave in our thinking, and most of all, we must do it quickly. 

 

Never waste a good crisis

An opinion editorial from Action Zero CEO Denis Collins on why we should never waste a good crisis – as seen in The Evening Echo.

Never waste a good crisis – as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are.   

And this is the motherlode of crises but also so of opportunity. I’m talking about climate action.  

This is a moment to seize and lead that could reap transformational outcomes for Ireland inc and generations to come – commercially, socially, academically. 

Examples include thousands of regional green jobs, demand for STEM professionals and highly skilled craftspeople, new clean energy sources, manufacturing, exports, FDI green brand, large business working closely with indigenous business for the next two to three decades. 

And equally important, making our planet a better place. 

It’s impossible not to be consumed by the scale of global impact. Majestic Californian redwoods in flames, half a billion creatures killed in Australian bushfires, “once in a generation” flooding occurring every three to five years, many parts of the world on the way to becoming uninhabitable.  

These are the consequences of many things, but nothing comes close to the damage visited on the planet by carbon emissions.   

The Boomer generation has seen a six-fold global increase in CO2 emissions in their lifetime. Nature’s capacity for absorbing and sequestering excess levels of CO2 emissions has long since been overwhelmed.

Industry, government, and the general population are all part of this as consumers, businesses and policy decision makers.  It’s us. 

The good news is that the world seems finally ready to act on a meaningful scale. Evidence of that new mindset is to be found in the flight of capital out of fossil fuels. 

Activist investors and legislators are forcing the issue. Among private and sovereign wealth funds, family offices, banks, pension funds, retail investors, cities and states, corporations – there have been many significant commitments of capital allocation. 

 A range of financial instruments including grants, carbon taxes and credits, tax-exempt green bonds, ESG-focussed funds and a range of others show real evidence of corporate and governmental intent. There’s a deficit of actionable projects by comparison with the value of those funds. 

Put in simpler terms, there’s lots of money available but we don’t quite know yet what to do with it. Nonetheless, the change in the funding environment is an important precursor to large-scale action.

It’s a start, but it’s too slow, and we need to accelerate. Ireland Inc faces our part in this challenge.

The Government’s Climate Action Plan 2019 makes the sobering declaration that “Ireland is way off course” and faces many challenges in meeting our commitments. The recently published climate bill enshrines in law our national commitment to reach net zero by 2050, with intermediate commitment to a 51% emissions reduction by 2030, 7% per year target. 

The scale of the challenge ahead of us was brought into stark focus in recent weeks with the publication of the EPA’s analysis on GHG emissions for 2020 – a 3.6% reduction in emissions may seem like progress, but the fact this was in the middle of a global pandemic with greatly reduced levels of economic activity puts our 7% per year target in even sharper focus. 

When it comes to climate action, Ireland has a track record of lagging far behind our European neighbours – we have missed our 2020 emissions reduction targets, and most of our renewable energy targets, with heat and transport posing a huge challenge. 

When it comes to heat, we fell well short of our 2020 goal of 12%, with only 6.3% realised. As with any great movement, it takes time for the systems to fit together and streamline. The problem is that we don’t have time. 

Decarbonising heat is the motherlode within the motherlode.  

It horizontally crosses industry and consumer massively, and solving this problem will make significant impact to CO2 emissions reduction. It’s vital we take this on and deploy joined-up thinking and solutions that remove fossil fuels – now. 

Technology will play a crucial role. Are we collaborating effectively, supporting solutions that are currently available to decarbonise heat?  I think not. 

Just as the climate crisis was created by many actions over a sustained period, improvements will come from a series of actions that combine to reverse the damage. 

Some will be large scale, policy-driven initiatives driven by governments and major corporations. Planning, regulatory frameworks will need to move more quickly.   

Examples include access to grid capacity for electrification, clustering opportunities for offshore wind, green hydrogen, and sources of large demand such as data centres need to be close to such clusters. Areas like West Cork are an example. We need to plan/work smarter. 

Smaller initiatives will have no less importance when combined. It all counts, and must accelerate.

Every action, no matter how small, that tilts the balance in the right direction should be embraced, copied and proliferated. If much of the damage was suffered through millions of ill-considered actions over time, much of the remediation can come from small actions carried out by enough people.

The financial services industry needs to step up. Government also needs to enhance the grant process. For example, we need to accelerate the speed of grants to industry to enable solutions. Similar to the financial services industry, the grant process needs to align to available decarbonising heat solutions/technologies. 

Simply put, we need grants issued more quickly, innovative funding arrangements that aren’t rooted in 10-year old thinking, policy frameworks with rapid action, relevant information campaigns. 

These moments don’t come along very often.  

Let’s not miss this incredible opportunity but also recognise that failure to deliver carries sombre consequences. 

Ireland has the ethos, skill, passion and track record to become a global leader.  

This opportunity matches our national psyche – monumental challenge to overcome, sustained commitment, global network and impact.  Punching above our weight.  Sound familiar?   It’s us.  

It’s a perfect storm moment – are we ready to seize it?