Progress towards a Just Transition on the
Island of Ireland

John Barry, Queen’s University Belfast, and Sinéad Mercier, Green Party of Ireland/Comhaontas Glas

John Barry
Nov 5, 2018 · 12 min read

‘Bíonn Gach Tosú Lag’
Irish saying ‘Every beginning is weak’

Progress towards a Just Transition on the island of Ireland from fossil fuels in particular and unsustainable (and neoliberal) models of economic development in general, is a mixed picture. It is full of deep and as yet unresolved contradictions, but also great potential. On the one hand, the island of Ireland has some of the best renewable energy resources on the planet, particular in offshore wind. As the International Energy Agency puts it “Ireland’s location at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean ensures one of the best wind and ocean resources in Europe”. Ireland’s solar climate is as good as Paris, and equivalent to 70% of the solar climate on the Mediterranean coast. This means that a transition to a 100% renewable energy system is entirely feasible. Yet, there is sluggish movement on decarbonization and greenhouse gas emissions reduction across the island, and at best only a rudimentary understanding of what a ‘just energy transition’ means from a trade union’s perspective. And then there is Brexit and the problematic post — conflict politics of Northern Ireland to contend with….

Photo credit: Giuseppe Milo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Republic of Ireland

In July 2017 the Republic of Ireland passed a law to ban onshore fracking. However, just days later, one of Ireland’s most prominent oil and gas exploration companies, Providence Resources, was granted a licence to drill, in search of an estimated five billion barrels of oil. A year later the Irish Government committed to divest from fossil fuel corporations, the first country in the world to do so. It appears that Ireland’s work on climate change is a matter of double-speak — with Government taking positive steps, while allowing privatized carbon-heavy industries to undermine them.

Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Department of Energy & Climate Change via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Northern Ireland

Turning now to Northern Ireland. It is on target to meet and go beyond the goal of 40% of electricity from renewable energy by 2020, yet the region’s GHG emissions are increasing, it has the highest levels of car use and fuel poverty in the UK and Europe. And it is worth noting that if you search for ‘Just Transition, Northern Ireland’ you are brought to web pages about the ‘transition from war to peace’, debate and policies around ‘transitional justice’, including the long-overdue ending of armed paramilitaries dominating working class communities, as well as issues of reconciliation and dealing with the legacy of its 40 year conflict. Northern Ireland is after all a ‘post-conflict’ society, meaning its engagement with energy transitions; climate change and the politics, alliances and policies for a Just Transition cannot ignore this salient and enduring issue.

  • Save over 50,000 households an average of £350 on energy bills
  • Alleviate and prevent fuel poverty in over 25,000 homes
  • Sustain up to 1100 jobs in the construction industry
  • Cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2 tonnes per household per annum
  • Return £440 million in lifetime savings to the Northern Ireland economy” (Northern Ireland Green New Deal group, 2012: 2)


Since 2006, there has been a Single Electricity Market and all-island grid, so despite separate jurisdictions both are integrated and co-dependent. And not just at the macro scale. If you are an electric vehicle owner in Northern Ireland and ring the helpline for public charging points you speak to someone in Cork, as the Republic of Ireland-owned energy company ESB manages all e-car charging points on the island.

Photo credit: Mic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Just Transitions

Just Transition(s) to a Low-Carbon World

John Barry

Written by

Professor of Green Political Economy, Queen’s University Belfast

Just Transitions

Just Transition(s) to a Low-Carbon World

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