Monday 28 May 2018

Not too much hot air, but more action is vital on green issues


Environment and Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten.
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Mixed news on the environment and climate change front in Budget 2018, but overall more positives than negatives.

The positives: real incentives in the form of benefit-in-kind relief for employers who provide workers with company cars which are electric. Employees should push for this, as it generates enormous tax savings.

There is also good news for those who buy a second hand electric motor, as some 1,500 will be able to avail of a free home-charging point. And €10m is available for electric vehicles in the form of grants and other subsidies.

For farmers, there is tax relief available if they allow up to 50pc of their land to be used for solar panels. On the downside, there is still no decision from government as to whether a subsidy will be available for this technology. A signal one way or the other is needed before the industry starts investing on a large scale, and we see a solar revolution.

But the biggest negative and missed opportunity by far is failure to increase taxes on diesel, which is far cheaper than petrol on garage forecourts, despite being far more polluting and having a detrimental effect on air quality.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten says that clean air will form part of his plans over the next 12 months, with more air quality monitoring stations to be rolled out. But diesel emissions must be tackled sooner rather than later. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency, which both tackles emissions and generates cash savings, is being targeted in Budget 2018.

Some €117m will be spent next year, up €35m, making homes and commercial and public buildings warmer, more efficient and cheaper to heat while reducing emissions. This will save 120,000 tonnes of carbon.

In fact, some €1.1bn will be spent between 2018 and 2021 on the capital side, most on energy efficiency. This is more than just a climate change measure - it also makes good business sense. It is also a big job creator, and also helps tackle fuel poverty.

And public bodies will also be incentivised to save energy. Any savings they make on bills will be made available to them to allocate to services and equipment as they see fit.

"They have a big role to play in terms of leadership," said Mr Naughten. "Climate is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is about putting the measures in place to make sure they bring about the type of behavioural change that we need."

A renewable heat incentive scheme will be rolled-out in 2018, which should help support development of an indigenous biomass industry, helping to create jobs, and reduce use of fossil fuels to heat buildings.

There is also funding for offshore wave energy research, with €9m allocated. Ireland is developing a full-scale testing site off the coast of Co Mayo, and already has a quarter-scale testing site in Galway, and more research funding will help drive innovation and hopefully lead to solutions in this difficult area. There are also tax breaks for companies which invest in energy efficient equipment, which are retained until 2020.

Not until today will details of the transport budget emerge, but there has been no indication from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe of major investment in public transport over road building.

A measly €3m has been allocated for cycling infrastructure, and there are no plans for a continued roll-out of charging infrastructure for electric cars, something badly needed if uptake is to increase. There is also nothing as yet around mass public transit systems including bus and rail, despite a plethora of projects being available for funding.

On the environment front, some €1.6m is allocated to clamp down on illegal dumping, and a waste awareness campaign, which will be key as new pay by use waste charges take effect.

Carbon taxes were a talking point in previous Budgets, but there are no changes this year. But a review of all such taxes is under way, and changes will be made to drive behavioural change among homeowners and businesses. There will be winners and losers, and 'good' behaviour is likely to be rewarded.

Ireland will miss its 2020 climate targets, which is likely to result in fines. This budget is better than those of previous years, but much more is needed.

Irish Independent

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