Opinion: Politicians will come under huge pressure to reject climate proposals

Leinster House
Leinster House
John Downing

John Downing

There is a grave danger that Irish farmers could become the fall guy - and girls - as the world finally wakes up to the challenges of global warming.

ICMSA president John Comer struck a chord with this writer yesterday when he called on the "real ­citizens' assembly" - ­otherwise known as Dáil Éireann - to reject the climate proposals which emerged from the so-called "Citizens' Assembly" on Sunday evening.

Mr Comer is right. The Citizens' Assembly was a ­political cop out set up because many of our ­politicians did not want to do their law-making job and face up to the tricky and divisive issue of abortion.

One wonders why we have elections at all. We could just hire a polling company to gather a group of citizens to run the ­country altogether.

Dáil Éireann is the real citizens' assembly, ­democratically elected, and cannot be supplanted by some PR creation. But the assembly did vote on 13 provisions aimed at making Ireland a world leader in the battle against global warming. These will be in the Dáil early next year and the fat will really be in the fire then.

The long and short of it is that farmers could face fines for greenhouse emissions. These could be set against a set of incentives, as favoured by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, which would reward those who manage their land better and engage in farming which sequesters carbon.

We understandably like the second bit but we find the first bit rather alarming. Farm unions have for years been fighting to get Ireland's grass-based beef and dairy production ­recognised as less harmful to the ­environment. And the fight goes on. The ICMSA's ­searing reaction to the ­proposals was not confined to pointing out where the real citizens' assembly is.

John Comer said that the key issue in the climate debate is too often ­ignored. This is the continued growth of the global human population with an increased demand for food which must be produced somewhere. Once that truth is ­accepted, the debate must switch to being about where food can be produced in the least ­environmentally ­stressful circumstances. "Ireland is one of the most climate-­efficient food producers in the world and should be a place where food production should be encouraged - not penalised as per the Citizens' Assembly," John Comer argued.

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Mr Comer ­happily ­acknowledged the ­importance of global ­warming and the urgency with which it should be tackled. But he argues that it needs to be examined globally rather than at a country level.

He said that imposing a tax on Irish ­agriculture to address climate change would actually be ­counter-productive with food production ­moving to less carbon-­efficient countries.

After many false starts there are now signs that the issue of climate change is beginning to hit home to ordinary citizens across the country. True, we are heavily dependent on what way the mega ­economies such as USA and China are ­responding to the ­challenges. The stance of Donald Trump on the issue is probably the greatest ­travesty of his ­administration.

But the old defeatism that this is an alibi for small countries like Ireland doing nothing is happily fading. This is something we all have an obligation to deal with for the good of the next generation.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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