Monday 23 September 2019

Climate change can kicked down the road as Paschal lets an opportunity slip by

On Monday, the United Nations reported that the world was warming faster than previously believed. Stock image
On Monday, the United Nations reported that the world was warming faster than previously believed. Stock image
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

This has not been a good Budget for the environment.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe can talk all he wants about sending a signal to tackle climate change, but one would have thought yesterday was the perfect opportunity to highlight that the Government was serious about tackling this most pressing and profound issue.

On Monday, the United Nations reported that the world was warming faster than previously believed, and that global leaders had just 12 years to drastically reduce emissions. The Irish Government's response? Kick the can down the road.

Without doubt, as an Esri study reported, any increase in the carbon tax would affect the poorest in society. But the State knows, through the social welfare system, who these people are, and so measures could be put in place to protect the most vulnerable from fuel poverty.

For those living in rural Ireland and forced to rely on a car, could a grant scheme aimed at hybrid vehicles not be introduced to take the sting out of any hike in motoring costs?

Does there come a time when a brave decision has to be taken? Not for this Government, it appears.

It has ignored the advice of the Climate Change Advisory Council, established to drive and develop climate policy, but also snubbed the UN climate report. But to pretend it values the environment, it introduced a number of measures. There's additional funding of €70m for the Environment and Waste Management Programme. Cleaning up rubbish. Which we should be doing anyway.

There's another €70m for the agriculture sector, the development of a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot to "further improve" the carbon efficiency of beef production.

Here's the rub. Beef production will always be polluting and damaging to the environment. Surely a fund to encourage inefficient farmers to diversify into other areas would have been more useful.

While there is money for retrofitting and helping State bodies to meet energy efficiency targets, this shouldn't be seen as a climate measure. This is just sound business. Investment in efficiency reduces running costs, as well as cutting emissions, and creates jobs. To our shame, progress on the public sector side of things isn't fast enough.

To a large degree, this was a Budget of signals. The Government says it is signalling that the carbon tax will increase. It also sent a signal that it's not mad about diesel by introducing a 1pc surcharge on new purchases, which will yield €25m, but it didn't commit to equalising the excise on the polluting fuel to bring it into line with petrol.

It also signalled hauliers and bus companies should consider a move to gas-propelled vehicles through an accelerated capital allowance, but this is merely lip service as it will cost just €1m next year.

The zero-rated benefit in kind on electric vehicles will cost just €3m, but it didn't announce a bold move like, for example, insisting any publicly owned vehicles will be electric or hybrid, including ministerial cars.

Less words, more action please. Time is running out.

Irish Independent

Also in Business