Climate change shares a critical feature with the Covid pandemic: it does not lend itself to narrow, country-by-country policy responses. The virus is unaware that humans have constructed national political frontiers, and the planet has just one atmosphere, its accumulating stock of greenhouse gases shorn of national identity the day they are emitted. Purely national responses will fail in both cases.
Last July, the Government published Ireland's Climate Action Plan (CAP), following the strong performance of the Green Party in the local and European elections. Endorsed by an all-party Oireachtas committee, the CAP promises accelerated action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, one of the countries to have fallen behind the targets set by the European Union.
Global action to reduce emissions has been inadequate for decades: further climate deterioration is inevitable without intensified effort, and the connection between fossil fuel combustion and emissions has been established for 40 years.
But national governments, of which there are 200 around the world, have weak incentives to pursue costly adjustment to solve a planetary problem: the beneficiaries are mainly foreigners.
Even China, now the largest source of emissions, is responsible for less than 30pc of the world total. Ireland clocks in at around one-tenth of 1pc, one tonne of emissions out of every thousand, a rounding error. The Greens have understandably demanded commitments on climate action but choosing the right policies in a single small country is not straightforward.
No country can claim a voice in creating a global consensus for effective action if it refuses to act itself, and there is anyhow a moral imperative on this generation to preserve the planet for the next.
The CAP has been developed as an Irish response in the context of the current EU policy framework. It is framed in passive acceptance of a European strategy open to criticism.
The narrative has now become entrenched that Ireland has failed on climate, relative to European peers and to superior EU policy, to the point that coherent debate about climate action in Ireland is being inhibited.
The Polish government has recently announced state subvention to a new coal-fired power station near Katowice, likely to enjoy a productive life of 40 years. Germany has 44 gigawatts of solid fuel-generating capacity and has agreed to phase down to zero only in 2038. Ireland has just 1.2 gigawatts and all will be closed within the next year or two.
That includes 0.9 gigawatts at Moneypoint, which the ESB uses sparingly and may discontinue using at all before the deadline of 2025, as well as the three peat-fired plants in the Midlands.
While these should never have been built, they are now being closed well before the end of their useful lives.
Ireland has spent freely the cash of electricity customers on subsidies to wind-power and already has a greater wind component in overall generation than most other EU countries. Taxes on motoring are high in Ireland, which has also introduced a carbon tax, not yet adopted in more than half of EU members.
Public perception that Ireland has done too little is fuelled by comparisons with European averages. The reality is that everyone has done too little, in Europe and beyond, but policy at EU level has its flaws and simplistic comparisons with EU averages are dangerous.
Between buildings and transport, the average Irish person is responsible for 1.1 tonnes of emissions per annum above the EU average, or an excess of about 35pc. This is partly due to higher living standards in Ireland than in the countries in eastern and south-eastern Europe - these emissions are measured on a consumption basis. There is scope to do better, with improved fuel efficiency in transport and in home-heating and insulation systems.
But the big difference is in agriculture, where the Irish excess looks like 400pc.
Irish emissions per capita are shown as five times the EU average. This is not because the Irish eat five times as much food as the average European. It is because the emissions are counted on a production basis, unlike the figures for buildings and transport.
If the fuels used in transport and home-heating were allocated to Saudi Arabia, and to the other countries where fuels are produced, the Irish figures would be much lower.
Of course, this is ridiculous - it is fair and proper to assign emissions by reference to consumption, and to discourage demand for carbon-intensive products and services with consumer taxes, the silver bullet of climate policy.
Calculation of large emissions in Irish farming without reference to the production basis of measurement is no more than a confirmation that Ireland is a successful producer of farm produce.
The country has a low population density, advantages of climate including rainfall and plentiful productive farmland. Ireland exports the surplus to countries with less favourable soil and climate. Guatemala exports bananas, Saudi Arabia exports oil and gas, Ireland exports cheese and butter.
The output of Saudi oil and gas is contained since demand is subject to taxes in the importing countries, where the emissions are added to compute their national totals. Oil produced in Saudi for export is (correctly) not counted in Saudi emissions.
The crucial weaknesses in EU policy are the territorial basis, and arbitrary measurement, of the chosen targets. The economist Dieter Helm, noting that the Covid pandemic brings only a temporary pause to emissions growth, puts it thus: "The key flaw in the EU and UK net zero ambitions - which the pause should be used to address - is the focus on unilateral territorial production targets. The flaw results in raising the incentive to switch from home production to imports of high-carbon intensive goods and services.
"The correct target if the aim is to cease being a cause of global warming, is consumption, not production. It is simply not true, as the UK Climate Change Committee claims in its 2019 Net Zero Report, that: 'By reducing emissions produced in the UK to zero, we also end our contribution to rising global temperatures'."
Targeting agricultural emissions in Ireland, rather than insisting on higher Irish and European carbon taxes, is unfortunate. Some Irish farm output is not economic anyway, notably small-scale suckler beef production, and there are problems aside from emissions, including the pollution of watercourses.
But constraining dairy output in Ireland would not even reduce European emissions if Irish herd reductions enhanced the incentive to graze the scorched plains of southern Europe. The analytic framework of the Climate Action Plan needs to be revisited.