Ireland was the second country in the world to declare that we are living in the midst of a climate emergency, which sounds rather impressive of us.

In truth, the moment was more bizarre than historic - it happened during a poorly attended Dáil sitting on a dank Thursday evening, in May 2019.

I was sitting in the media perch, overlooking the near empty chamber, as six TDs mulled over a Fianna Fáil amendment to a comprehensive Oireachtas Committee Report on Climate Action.

The debate wrapped-up more quickly than anyone had expected and, at that juncture, there were no Fianna Fáil members in the chamber.

An eagle-eyed Eamon Ryan, who was on the Opposition benches at the time, spotted his chance.

The Green Party leader and Dublin Bay South TD put the motion which was then passed without opposition, and the session adjourned.

It had happened in a flash.

I scrambled to have a word with Deputy Ryan to be certain about what had just transpired, and caught-up with him as he crossed the plinth towards the bike rack near Kildare Street.

Had we declared a climate emergency or not? I asked him.

"We have…" he replied, with a smile, "in our own Irish way."

The news flashed around the world - Ireland had followed the United Kingdom in declaring a climate emergency.

Climate action activist Greta Thunberg, then 16 years old, was quick to tweet: "Great news from Ireland! Who is next?"

She continued: "And remember: #ClimateEmergency means leaving fossil fuels in the ground."

Completely? If yes, then by what date?

And how does that square with the economic requirement to have a guaranteed energy supply which is relatively cheap?

Those questions remain at the heart of the climate debate more than three years after that historic Dáil vote.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan

It's the conundrum still confronting Mr Ryan who has traded his place on the Opposition benches for the position of Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications - with responsibility for energy policy.

He knows the brief - he was previously Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, between 2007 and 2011.

When Mr Ryan joined us on the RTÉ Your Politics podcast last Wednesday, he had just left a Cabinet meeting which finalised the rules for the first ever sale of offshore wind development rights.

"Our sea area is seven times our land area, and it happens to be the windiest place on the planet"

The minister hailed the decision as a "massive step forward" because the project had the potential to generate half of Ireland's daily electricity requirements, with more to come.

He was bullish, given the incredible potential of our natural resources: "Our sea area is seven times our land area, and it happens to be the windiest place on the planet."

Six areas off the east coast of Ireland, and one off the west, have now been designated for development but it will take five years before the green electricity will arrive.

That begs the question - what do we do before reaching that green nirvana?

Minister Ryan said the intermediate step, up to the end of this decade, will be the use of gas.

He said: "We do need new gas fired stations to back-up that wind. You will have more gas stations, but using less gas, because you only use it when the wind isn’t blowing."

Mr Ryan is currently formulating a proposal to bring to Cabinet, following a public consultation.

The ruin of St Vaulks church and wind turbines at Carnsore Point in Co Wexford (

Brave new world

There’s a touch of science-fiction to it all - a brave new world where gas is replaced by green hydrogen generated from renewable sources. Time will tell.

A more immediate concern is the government’s plan to speedily expedite a gas storage facility on foot of the global energy disruption crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Ryan said it makes sense to have "an absolute cast-iron certainty" over our supply, but that did not entail the private sector.

He told us: "That gas storage is not for commercial purposes. It’s for security purposes. It’s State controlled… State led… State regulated…. to give you security in those circumstances."

If this ambitious plan is to work, changes are needed to a planning process which is viewed by the offshore industry as cumbersome, lengthy and at times confusing.

Last September, Shell pulled out of two offshore wind projects in the west of Ireland, operated by the Simply Blue Group - a year after the company acquired stakes in the developments.

This time last year, the Norwegian giant Equinor walked away from a joint venture with the ESB, including a 1.5 gigawatt plan to generate electricity off the coasts of Clare and Kerry.

"He's difficult to slow down as he breezes into open country, with a messianic glint in his eye, talking about how floating windmills the size of the chimneys at Moneypoint will be firing electricity into future interconnectors"

Minister Ryan contended on our podcast, however, that change is a-comin’.

He said: "The Attorney General is going full steam, if you excuse the inappropriate metaphor, in changing and looking at our planning laws to ensure that we don’t have an incredibly complicated planning system."

Again, time will tell.

Minister Ryan himself can be difficult to harness in an interview.

At times, he’s difficult to slow down as he breezes into open country, with a messianic glint in his eye, talking about how floating windmills the size of the chimneys at Moneypoint will be firing electricity into future interconnectors with France and the UK.

At the same time, he can be precise when it comes to rejecting suggestions that liquified natural gas (LNG) can help.

Fine Gael Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan contends that an LNG terminal on the Shannon is essential if we are to avoid catastrophic electricity outages and economic damage.

Minister Ryan would see this as a retrograde step: "Yes we will have storage; but it will not be the commercial LNG that people have been kind of promoting and promising."

'Massive imponderable'

There is still one massive imponderable - will Ireland be able to secure enough gas, should Russia's war on Ukraine continue, and the supply become scarcer?

Energy targets are just one component of the government’s legally binding Climate Action Plan which aims to reduce our emissions by 51% by the year 2030.

The CAP was due to be updated to include sectoral emissions-ceilings, such as targets for agriculture, which were agreed after lengthy and sometimes fraught negotiations.

It was due to be published this month but Minister Ryan said it would now be delayed until the middle of December as he wanted to get it right rather than rush it.

The expectation had been that it would be published to coincide with the latest UN climate conference, which is under way, at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Minister Ryan is on his way to COP27, (the 27th time that there has been a meeting of the Conference Of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

He will be operational in Sharm el-Sheikh later today for what will be the second week of this annual climate jamboree, where the nitty-gritty of the negotiations are nailed down.

Taoiseach Michéal Martin at COP27 this week

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the summit and declared: "If this generation doesn’t step-up urgently, future generations will not forgive us."

He’s right. However, Minister Ryan was downplaying what might come out of COP27.

He said that last year’s summit in Glasgow was more significant, even if the pace had been "tortuous and slow", as a complicated rule book regarding emissions had been signed-off.

Minister Ryan felt the single most important outcome from COP27 would be to ensure there was a clear signal from the summit in Egypt that climate justice was central to the UN’s global plan.

That’s part of the reason why Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney met the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, for a bi-lateral discussion while in Sharm el-Sheikh: he wanted to offer support to a country wracked by famine due to a climate related drought.

'Loss and Damage'

The centrepiece of COP27 is a debate entitled "Loss and Damage".

According to the UNFCCC, loss and damage includes extreme weather events but also slow onset events, such as sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification and glacial retreat.

Their logic is that the developed world must pay to offset these consequences, on the basis that it has emitted the greenhouse gases which are causing such horrendous damage to poorer countries.

The Taoiseach has already given a commitment that Ireland will back the plan, albeit that the €10m flagged for the initiative will come from a pre-existing Climate Finance Fund.

Minister Ryan said: "We need to act fast. We need to be part of a global solution which does put justice at its centre, and I think we’re well placed to do that."

Does this qualify as evidence that the world is adequately responding to a climate emergency?

Not in the view of Greta Thunberg, who is staying away from Sharm el-Sheikh.

She tweeted to her 5,000,000 followers: "The people in power don’t need conferences, treaties or agreements to start taking real climate action.

"They can start today. When enough people come together then change will come and we can achieve almost anything. So instead of looking for hope - start creating it."

When COP27 wraps-up, most likely with a deal, Minister Ryan will be back in the Dáil outlining his updated Climate Action Plan.

Will the words match the deeds?

If Ireland truly believes there is a climate emergency, it should be self-evident given we're now three years on from the original declaration.