Monday 16 September 2019

Ian Talbot: 'Brexit is drawing ever closer, but climate change looms larger'

Climate fears: Chambers Ireland has urged the Government to act now to cut carbon emissions. Stock Image
Climate fears: Chambers Ireland has urged the Government to act now to cut carbon emissions. Stock Image

Ian Talbot

Brexit dominates the headlines, but climate change is the largest threat we face. Chambers Ireland's Budget 2020 recommendations support the Government's Climate Action Plan (CAP), and we would welcome a long-term, consistent approach toward decarbonising our economy that enables businesses and consumers to make responsible choices.

Irish businesses are greatly concerned by climate change. The increased frequency of extreme weather events, biodiversity decline and rising sea levels make our world a more challenging place to live. Our businesses and communities can improve their sustainability, becoming climate-resilient, if we act soon.

The latest UN report on the issue demonstrates that the last century of climate change is a result of human activities. In our own lifetimes, we have seen the weather patterns change.

The CAP and the National Development Plan (NDP) set ambitious targets which need major capital investment.

Government must invest in our cities, towns and communities if we're going to get anywhere near zero-carbon by 2050.

Building a low-carbon and climate- resilient economy, through achieving zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, will require wide-scale decarbonisation policies and projects.

However, we are already missing our EU targets, with emissions actually projected to increase next year.

To meet our heating targets, the CAP's commitment to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 is vital, prioritising properties using solid fuels, and those without central heating.

Carbon pricing is fundamental for combatting climate change and reducing GHG emissions. With carbon taxes at €20/tonne, they currently raise €400m per year. Up to 2030, they will likely rise to €80/tonne, which will average out annually to only 1.5 cent per litre of diesel.

While a carbon tax can incentivise behaviour change, without real alternatives, it will have an unjust impact on low-income households and those with limited transport options.

Therefore, existing revenue from carbon taxes should be immediately ring-fenced and invested in public transport and infrastructure which supports climate transition projects.

Providing transport alternatives will be fundamental to reducing emissions. Chambers Ireland calls on the Government to increase sustainable transport funding, by investing in cycling infrastructure, the wide-scale electrification of trains, and support for low-emission heavy vehicles with novel energy sources. Carbon taxes will have a pronounced effect on the regions, with Brexit and the sterling devaluation having already damaged Border economies. If carbon taxes are not rolled out on an all-island basis, impacted businesses must be assisted.

To meet the CAP target of 950,000 electric vehicles by 2030, we need to accelerate the roll-out of a national fast-charging network, particularly in regional areas where there are few public transport options - aware that this will put an enormous demand on the electricity grid which was configured for the technologies of a generation ago.

Therefore, grid investment, in combination with decarbonising our electricity, underpins our other decarbonisation policies.

In 2018, wind provided 30pc of our total electricity demand. Increased grid investment will be needed to deliver the CAP's 2030 target of 70pc renewable electricity. Offshore development will be essential in meeting our renewable targets, but there are legal and administrative barriers.

Delayed changes to our marine planning framework contributed to us overshooting our emissions targets. This new framework must be rapidly introduced.

Our window of opportunity is closing. To make good on our CAP/NDP commitments, we need strategic long-term planning, major infrastructure investment, and all elements of society collaborating.

Policy changes introduce uncertainty and deter investment. For businesses to embark on climate change investment programmes, we will need continuity in the policy environment, across successive governments.

Just as Ireland has maintained decades-long consistency on our corporation tax rate, we must, at an inter-party level, commit to the CAP. A sustainable, decarbonised economy will require major changes in how we live and work, the ways we travel and what we build.

Investment in transport networks, energy systems and urban areas is always necessary; decarbonisation simply means the focus changes.

Some argue that avoiding climate adaptation investments could deliver a competitive advantage to the economy, forgetting that businesses and taxpayers will pay the price for missing our targets.

Investing in our future will ensure our country can become a competitive and energy self-sufficient economy, which guarantees a high quality of life for all our people. These investments will create great, innovative opportunities and enriching work.

Ian Talbot is chief executive of Chambers Ireland

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