It is with great pleasure that I address you this afternoon at this innovative and unique national conference, hosted by Bord na Móna in collaboration with Resolve Partners which brings together leaders and innovators tackling global climate challenges.
The Accelerate Green programme, as you know, promised to help eight business leaders ‘identify clear pathways to scaling your novel solutions, delivering measurable impact and supporting economic development.’
Earlier today I opened a conference on Just Transition, organised by the Civil Society Organisations' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee partnered with Irish Rural Link. About 100 attendees from many Irish and EU Civil Society Representatives all with a common purpose of collaborating in the move to a net zero future, in a socially equitable way.
The overlap is obvious – Accelerate Green is an impact accelerator. You are here because your business is solving or planning to solve social and environmental challenges. You are already sustaining jobs and contributing to local communities. You have identified the possibility to scale and I say from the bottom of my heart - You are welcome to the Midlands.
The Accelerate Green programme was funded as part of the LIFE IP Peatlands and People Programme and I know that in this room are businesses that have received backing from Enterprise Ireland, the National Just Transition Fund and a myriad of other funds and investors. I am delighted to see a session scheduled for later this afternoon on financing and the role of the investing community. Impact investors – may I also welcome you to the Midlands. The more the merrier.
I believe that opportunities for funding in the Midlands region abound – we need projects of quality, scale, and impact to invest in.
Governments across the EU have a responsibility to ensure that the Just Transition delivers not just for the early adopters, but also for those who, for a variety of reasons, will be slower to embrace the change. You are those early adopters, and through collaboration and IMPACT, you will play a huge part in generating the solutions that will deliver for all of society. You, together with the great economic, social, and cultural institute at the heart of the Midlands for so many generations, Bord na Móna, are leading the way in climate change innovation in Ireland.
Not everyone is an entrepreneur or innovator. We need job creation to support good quality of life and vibrant communities for those who can’t create their own, and you will need the skilled workforce to delivery on your ambitions. We all understand that the employment landscape has changed and I believe that the education and training landscape has responded fantastically in providing training and reskilling opportunities to meet recognised gaps. This is an area where collaboration is of paramount importance – I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that if you have a skills need, please verbalise it. The Government, we want to help - so much so that we have a Minister for Skills - Simon Harris.
I say it a lot, sometimes I bore myself, but time is not on our side, and you were chosen to participate in the Accelerate Green programme because of your potential to scale and scale quickly. We need disruptive technologies and outside the box thinking. I see that in this room.
You will be aware that the EU JTFund has tight timeframes including the NewGeneration EU element which requires that once committed to a Member State, projects must be fully implemented within 3 years. That’s a narrow window. If you are considering this fund, I would urge you to start planning now – I recently asked EMRA and the local authorities to collaborate on briefing on the draft programme and I will continue to pursue this.
I love the story of the spread of mobile phone technology across the continent of Africa – the mobile phone spread like wildfire, and in remote locations where there has never been a telephone nor electricity line, ordinary people now hold the capacity in their hands to learn, to bank, to earn and to make a difference. That is disruption and democratisation and each of you in your own businesses, hold that power.
I am a passionate believer in what this Government is doing to support you – legislating for Climate Action, supporting renewable and community energy, funding research and development - including in food waste, bioeconomy, and disruptive technologies - complementing EU funds, legislating for a circular economy, for waste reduction, a sustainable public procurement policy and much more. We have your backs. Again, please tell us your needs. We are here to listen and to do our best to support you.
As you will have heard earlier, I am also working closely with my colleague Minister Eamon Ryan on a Land use Review so that optimal land use options inform all relevant government decisions. Action on climate and biodiversity will be central to its success.
I want to finish with a few Thank Yous – Thank you Bord na Mona, not only for the invite to speak, but for your own innovation through Accelerate Green. Thank you to the 8 participating businesses - you fill me with such hope. I thoroughly enjoyed and l learned much from a visit with Karen in Real Leaf last year who is based in Ballycon, not far from where I live. It is great to see how these investments are delivering
And thank you to everyone else in this room – I am deeply aware of the combined effort of literally hundreds if not thousands of people across a web of agencies, local authorities, social enterprises, private enterprises and communities who have their shoulders to the wheel of the Just Transition, each of you playing your part in ensuring that the Midlands region has an exciting future ahead as we transition to a low carbon economy.
Keep it up!