Saturday 10 December 2016

Most people believe climate change is a problem, so why isn't the Government acting?

Published 01/10/2016 | 02:30

The survey ran on independent.ie over the past week and had 4,571 respondents
The survey ran on independent.ie over the past week and had 4,571 respondents

Two things are abundantly clear from the survey carried out as part of the 'Climate Change and You' series over the past week.

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The first is that the overwhelming majority of the 4,571 respondents believe the science. Some 86pc believe climate change is caused by human activity. There is little scepticism. The second is that the Government is not doing enough to highlight and address the problem.

That presents a major challenge for the State, especially given its lacklustre attitude in introducing policies to help Ireland move to a low-carbon future. The reasons for inaction are well-flagged: an unwillingness to annoy the powerful farming lobby, given our reliance on the agriculture and food sector; a contention that Ireland is only moving out of recession and cannot afford to make the kinds of changes needed; but most of the reluctance is rooted in politics and an unwillingness to show real leadership which goes beyond a next election.

The job of governments is to lead, and not pander to constituency concerns. Some 75pc believe climate change is a 'very serious' problem, and they expect the State to act. Those hit with severe winter flooding are most likely in this cohort. Climate change is clearly a local issue.

An overwhelming number of those questioned in the 'Climate Change and You' survey believe
climate change is caused by human activity (stock photo)
An overwhelming number of those questioned in the 'Climate Change and You' survey believe climate change is caused by human activity (stock photo)

But major barriers exist to tackling the problem. Just one in four believe the general public is willing to address the challenge.

That's in part driven by barriers to behavioural change - the lack of incentives ranked highest, but one in three believes there is a general lack of information available about the measures required.

People know the areas they want tackled first - power generation, followed by transport, agriculture and industry.

But the ESB makes the point that power generation accounts for just 20pc of our total emissions, and that we need to focus on other areas like transport and heat to get big wins. This clearly illustrates the leadership vacuum.

Many communities are opposed to wind and other renewables. In many cases, rightly so, but there is a 'Nimby' element at play too. But the survey shows 86pc of respondents are willing to support the roll-out of more renewables, even if it impacts on the landscape.

Levies

Another interesting result is that around the use of consumption taxes like carbon levies. Some 70pc support changes to the tax system where citizens are taxed based on their impact on the environment, if these taxes replaced those on income. Food for thought for the Government. So what next?

To get real action, the Government must push to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement. This will only come into force after 55pc of countries, representing 55pc of emissions, sign up. So far, 61 countries with almost 48pc of emissions have ratified, but not the EU. It's not yet clear if the bloc will ratify en masse, or if each member state will do so. US presidential candidate Donald Trump has threatened to unpick the Paris Agreement. If it's ratified, and locked into law, the US cannot pull out for four years after that date. That alone should focus minds on getting it over the line, if the EU is serious about climate.

The Government must also launch a public information campaign and fast-track the so-called mitigation plans which set out the actions needed in each sector of the economy. Many solutions are already there, we don't need to re-invent the wheel and we should just get on with it.

Clearly, there's appetite for change. The problem is people don't know how that change will happen. It's time for all parties to address that gap.

Irish Independent

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