Saturday 1 October 2016

Ireland's position on climate change is one of hypocrisy - lots of hot air but no action

Cara Augustenborg

Published 20/09/2016 | 02:30

Ireland’s failure to meet its 2020 EU emission reduction targets then became a convenient argument for lower 2030 targets (Stock picture)
Ireland’s failure to meet its 2020 EU emission reduction targets then became a convenient argument for lower 2030 targets (Stock picture)

Spend some time watching Ireland address EU environmental regulations and you'll inevitably come across the term "derogation" and discover that Ireland tries to avoid compliance with EU Directives as much as possible. While verdant in appearance and branding, Ireland is not so green when it comes to sustainability.

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This hypocrisy is most evident in Ireland's approach to climate action. Enda Kenny stood at the podium at the Paris Climate Summit last December and told the world: "Ireland is determined to play its part.

"We have committed, with our EU partners, to a collective target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40pc by 2030."

Six months later, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Ireland would fall far short of achieving its 2020 target of 20pc emissions reduction from 2005 levels and only reduce emissions a paltry 6pc as transport and agricultural emissions continue to rise with no climate action plan in sight.

Ireland's failure to meet its 2020 EU emission reduction targets then became a convenient argument for lower 2030 targets as our Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, and Climate and Energy Minister, Denis Naughten, travelled to Brussels in May to win "wiggle room" by basing 2030 targets on 2016-2018 emissions.

In other words, for the next two years there is no incentive for Ireland to make any efforts to reduce emissions that would only make 2030 targets more difficult to achieve in the future.

The EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, essentially just rewarded Ireland for not doing its homework for the past decade.

Now that Ireland has received concessions to lower its emissions targets even further, there is no doubt that we are not doing our fair share to address climate change, particularly as the tenth most prosperous country in the world and one of the highest greenhouse gas emitters per capita.

All of this wheeling and dealing by our elected representatives in Brussels loses sight of the bigger picture. The whole point of the EU's 2030 emission reduction target is to do its fair share to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from occurring.

Even with a 40pc EU emission reduction target, combined with all the other intended nationally determined contributions, the science tells us we will still only reduce global warming to approximately 3.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, rather than the safer 1.5 to 2 degree goal established in the UN Climate Agreement.

A year ago, An Taoiseach addressed the UN Sustainability Summit in New York, citing the Irish people's generational memory of occupation, hunger, conflict and mass emigration as a reason for our "deep commitment to addressing suffering and hardship wherever they are found" and urged a response to such hardship "that draws on our common humanity and our common compassion".

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced each year by climate or weather-related disasters in the last seven years - equivalent to 62,000 people every day.

In Bangladesh, almost five million people have left their rural homes to live as 'pavement dwellers' in Dhaka due to flooding, storms and a dramatic decline in agricultural productivity.

That number is growing at a rate of half a million people per year and Dhaka will soon become the largest megacity in the world. Surely this is the kind of suffering and hardship Enda Kenny was referring to in his impassioned speech at the UN Sustainability Summit last September.

An Taoiseach concluded his UN speech by stating: "Our shared future, our humanity, is evident not alone in what we do but in the mutual recognition that we are 'kind' together."

Nevertheless, our Government's recent victory to lower concessions regarding greenhouse gas emissions is by no means kind or compassionate to those around the world now suffering due to climate change.

We are undoubtedly governed by climate hypocrites.

Dr Cara Augustenborg is an environmental scientist lecturing on climate change at University College Dublin and Chairperson at Friends of the Earth Ireland.

Irish Independent

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