Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said developing renewable energy technology constitutes the single greatest business opportunity for the Irish economy.

He said the global 'clean tech' sector is now worth $284bn and that figure is projected to rise to $1.3 trillion in just a decade's time.

The minister said it would be an enormous lost opportunity if the 'green tech' solutions of the future were left to other countries to develop.

He argued Ireland should replicate the growth of its existing biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

Mr Gormley said the Government's Cabinet Sub-Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security was examining the green tech issue very closely.

Ireland is producing twice as many PhD graduates as it did only a decade ago, just one sign of the heavy investment which has been made into research and development.

According to the Environment Minister, the way to transform that expertise into jobs and companies is the emerging green technology sector.

Minster Gormley told an Environmental Protection Agency conference in Dublin that California had already gone down this road, and Ireland risked being left behind.

While he said the Government was working out a blueprint for development, the conference also heard some of what is required.

The head of Science Foundation Ireland, Professor Frank Gannon, said there was an urgent need for science and engineering research to support work on energy efficient technologies.

A leading UN climate change expert, Martin Parry of the IPCC, said governments had vacillated for ten years, and action, not promises, was needed now.