Former president Mary Robinson has called on Bord Na Mona to undertake a “just transition” as they prepare for major job losses.
Speaking at the Creative Responses to Climate Change event at Dublin’s Trinity College, Ms Robinson compared fossil fuel companies to those who produce tobacco.
“The UN Special Report released last month heralds the end of the fossil fuel era. They have lost legitimacy to operate, like tobacco. Selling a product known to cause harm is not acceptable,” she said.
Bord Na Mona announced last month that as they move towards decarbonisation and winding down their peat business, there would be around 430 jobs lost.
The need for the urgent end of peat extraction mustn't undermine the rights of the communities whose lives are dependent on the bogsMary Robinson
Unions were told that the company plans to close 17 of 62 bogs where peat is harvested, affecting a large swathe of Midlands communities.
Ms Robinson said that the transition to decarbonisation must be undertaken to protect the rights of the communities affected.
“For decades the people and communities in the Midlands have served the people of Ireland by harvesting peat to heat our homes, however we now know that peat is the worst of fossil fuels we burn for energy,” she said.
“A just transition has origins in the labour movement, aiming to secure the future and livelihoods of workers, based on social dialogue and commitment to human rights.
“It’s an economy-wide process that leads to a future where all jobs are green and decent, greenhouse gases are at net-zero and poverty is eradicated and communities are thriving and resilient.
“This transition has already begun, it will be down to national and local government to work with unions and fossil fuel companies to ensure that workers are not forgotten.
“The challenge we face is to design and manage the next industrial revolution, with minimal negative effects on workers and communities.
“The need for the urgent end of peat extraction mustn’t undermine the rights of the communities whose lives are dependent on the bogs, there needs to be a long-term strategy,” she said.
Ms Robinson added Bord Na Mona has the opportunity to plan and deliver a just transition strategy to end the use of peat for energy by offering workers support to re-skill or gain early access to their pension.
She said that social protection from the government would be critical for those who lose their jobs due to reducing carbon emissions.
Referencing the Spanish government’s plans to shut all coal mines at the end of this year, with 250 million euro being invested in mining regions in the next decade, Ms Robinson hailed the “leave no one behind approach”.
Bord Na Mona previously said it is developing new businesses to support a low carbon economy and has identified potential to create up to 500 jobs across the Midlands in the medium term.