Wednesday 21 February 2018

Citizens' Assembly hears that Government is 'long fingering' climate change policy

The problem is now greenhouse gas emissions, and its consquences
The problem is now greenhouse gas emissions, and its consquences

Laura Lynott

THE Government is "long fingering" climate change policy while engaging in a "trade off" placing economic success as a priority above the country’s environmental future, an Irish climate expert claimed.

Joseph Curtin, senior research fellow on climate change policy, at the Institute of International and European Affairs, said Government is not being “honest” about the implications of becoming an environmental country.

The Citizens' Assembly met today in Malahide, Co Dublin, to discuss how the State can become a leader on environmental issues.

But Mr Curtin said Government is falling short on the issue.  “It’s a good thing the economy is growing but the other implications aren’t being considered.

“We need to be honest about the trade offs that exist in policy and we aren’t being honest about that.”

Mr Curtin stated that Ireland’s economy is growing faster than expected in emissions projections, “so the situation is worse”.

Laura Burke, director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, said there had been a proven direct link between Ireland’s growing economy and greenhouse gas emissions.

“In 2008 there was a very big decline (in emissions) followed by a flatline - it mirrors the economic recession,” Ms Burke said.  “If the economy is going well, emissions are going up as well.” 

Transport emissions were a staggering 130 per cent higher in 2013 than in 1990, she explained.

“The more people are in employment, the more cars and trucks are on the road and the more emissions.”

1998 was the peak for emissions which rose to 2 million tonnes.  And Ireland has already seen the negative effects of climate change directly caused by emissions, including flooding, storms and warmer summers, she explained.

It was, she stated, only when events like the recent flooding in Donegal, took place, that climate change once again entered the Irish psyche.

If Ireland continues down the same “carry on as we are” route - 90pc of summers by the end of the century, will be at least as warm as the hottest on record in 1995, Ms Burke stated. That year temperatures rose to 30C.

She predicted this could lead to more lives being lost. “We’ve seen an eight fold increase in 1995 happening again,” she added.

“Organisation of our transport links are critical.  Our public transport needs to be a leader, so it encourages work across other sectors. To move the public transport fleet to fossil free has so many benefits.”

Dr Conor Murphy, from Maynooth University, told the Assembly:  “We need to get real,” adding that Government and communities across the country needed to tackle climate change.

But he placed the firm responsibility on Government.  “It’s about having the political will to meet targets,” he said

The State is already likely to face huge financial sanctions for failing to meet targets to reduce carbon emissions by 20 pc before 2020

Mr Curtin said:  “There’s a financial implication for not reaching our targets, they’ll be in the hundreds of millions (of euro) by 2020 and billions (of euro) for 2030. That means less money for schools and hospitals.”

But the Government was also refusing to admit jobs are at risk by going green, he added.

“There will be pain, winners and losers.  There will be growing sectors and lots of sectors where there will be job losses.” 

The Government had chosen to “take the path of least resistance,” by not being open about what will be lost by being serious about climate change.

“It’s great to say ‘let’s be a leader’ in climate change but there are implications for people’s jobs and we need to be honest about that,” Mr Curtin said.

“There are going to be losers and vulnerable communities.  If we introduce a carbon tax, how do poorer communities manage, we have to think about that.”

It is expected a move towards carbon neutrality will lead changes in sectors which emit greenhouse gases, including agriculture, transport, electricity and heat.

It is “fanciful” to even suggest Ireland could currently lead the way on climate change, he added.

“We aren’t doing our fair share, we have failed in the last 12 years, we haven’t stepped up to the plate or dealt with the challenge.

“Let’s do our fair share, maybe have another Citizens’ Assembly in ten years and see if we can become leaders.

“Ireland is not on target to meet any of its international targets but all other countries are on track to meet emissions and renewable obligations.  Ireland needs to pick up its socks.”

Ireland last year signed the Paris Agreement - a pledge to curb the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

Mr Burke said it was  a “shame” that there was resistance to addressing cutting greenhouse gas emissions in rural Ireland and he pointed out that agricultural sectors could help with shaping new energy solutions to “drive” a future green economy, if there was a change in mindset.

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