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Saturday 15 December 2018

Bold and ambitious action is needed to avoid jaw-dropping hikes for dragging our heels

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The carbon tax hikes which could be needed to avoid EU fines for missing our climate targets are jaw-dropping.

They involve at least a 15-fold hike in the tax levied on buying a bag of coal or a tank of petrol. If imposed, they will add an enormous financial burden to households and cause a drop in economic activity.

But they can be avoided. In fact, the ESRI analysis is a wake-up call to Government that it can no longer avoid taking climate action.

Given all our talk about the need for a 'smart' economy, we have an appalling track record in tapping into a movement which promises clean, green and well-paid jobs as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

We have made some inroads in retro-fitting homes and buildings, but there is much more to be done. We are nowhere near electrifying our transport fleet, both public and private; our agriculture sector largely gets a free pass; there is little or no effort made to force people out of their cars by investing in public transport; and our cities continue to expand.

We will miss our legally- binding targets to reduce emissions by 2020, and on the current path we are on, will miss the 2030 targets too. This will have a financial cost, whether in the form of large fines or a requirement to buy carbon allowances from countries which have stepped up to the plate.

The ESRI says that unless new, ambitious policies are introduced, the citizen will pay for this lack of action. It forecasts that a hike in the carbon tax from €20 per tonne to at least €300 - and possibly as much as €470 - will be required for us to meet our targets, assuming there are no new policies.

Politically and morally that's completely unacceptable - aren't governments supposed to avoid putting their citizens under unnecessary stress? Fine Gael isn't helping itself by avoiding the issue and putting the tough decisions onto the long finger.

Last month, it avoided hiking the carbon tax from €20 to €30, saying it would set out a pathway showing how the price would increase over time. But at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis over the weekend, the Taoiseach committed to five years of income tax cuts. Which is it? Give with one hand, while taking with the other? Fine Gael and its Independent colleagues need to decide.

Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton has promised a new plan early in 2019. We have heard this before. This could the last chance for the Government to prove it actually has some vision, and avoid dipping into everyone's pocket to fight climate change.

Irish Independent

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