Friday 14 December 2018

Watchdog urges huge hikes on gas, petrol, oil to protect climate

Professor John Fitzgerald: 'There is an urgent requirement for change.' Photo: Gerry Mooney
Professor John Fitzgerald: 'There is an urgent requirement for change.' Photo: Gerry Mooney
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

A "substantial" increase in carbon taxes on home heating and motoring fuels is needed to reduce emissions and help prevent dangerous climate change.

A ban on coal and turf to generate power and heat homes, coupled with increased investment in public transport over roads, are also required in the short term, the Climate Change Advisory Council warns.

In its first annual review, the council said the Government needed to put in place "major new policies and measures" to meet international targets to reduce emissions, and that the pace of reductions needed to be "accelerated" across all sectors of the economy.

It said the National Mitigation Plan published earlier this year, which sets out the actions required to tackle climate change, was inadequate; that Ireland would miss its 2020 targets "by a wide margin", was likely to miss its 2030 targets and was "not on track" to decarbonise the economy by 2050, despite committing to do so when it signed the Paris Climate Accord.

"There is an urgent requirement for change," said council chair Professor John Fitzgerald (pictured). "A clear medium-term strategy to phase out fossil fuels in the electricity, transport and residential sectors is required. There is an urgent requirement for new policies and measures, and action beyond what is committed to in the National Mitigation Plan.

"The subsidy for peat-fired electricity generation should be ended. Investments in public transport fleets should avoid fossil fuel lock-in while overall capital investment should be rebalanced away from roads towards public transport."

The independent council was established under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 and is tasked with advising the Government on national policy relating to climate change. Among the key measures it proposes include incentivising the take-up of electric vehicles, and combating urban sprawl to allow people to commute to work and education using public transport, cycling or walking.

An assessment of the adequacy of the electric vehicle charging network is required, and agriculture needs to "urgently adopt and implement" all cost-effective measures.

A review of official data shows that emissions are rising as the economy grows, with particular concern around transport and agriculture. There are also concerns about use of coal and peat to generate electricity due to their climate impact, and health implications.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the report was a "wake-up call" to the Government, while Cliona Sharkey, policy adviser at Trócaire and member of Stop Climate Chaos, said it made for "disturbing reading".

Political difficulties for the Government include a call to stop subsidising peat-fired power plants in the Midlands, which support almost 1,500 jobs.

The report noted that the public service obligation payment for peat generation costs consumers €110m a year, to fund generation of 250MW of power. Conversely, renewables cost €351m a year to support, but generate more than 3,300MW.

The council said the €110m subsidy was a "substantial sum" that could be used to provide alternative employment.

On raising carbon taxes, reducing income taxes to compensate would allow people to make sustainable choices in how they travelled or heated their homes.

Council sets out action needed in each part of the economy

Energy

Need for a "planned and substantial" increase in the carbon tax, which would add to the cost of motoring and home-heating fuels, including oil, gas and briquettes. It currently stands at €20 per tonne, but this could rise to more than €70.

Coal and peat should be phased out for home heating and power generation and subsidies for peat-fired plants in the Midlands should be removed by 2019.

The Government should push for a minimum price on carbon at EU level to encourage decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

There is also a need for guidelines on development of wind farms and more engagement with communities around renewable energy projects.

Transport

A more "ambitious" approach is needed, including rebalancing of spending away from roads and into public transport.

Take up of electric vehicles needs to be incentivised and an assessment completed to see if the current public charging infrastructure is adequate.

Investment in new public transport fleet should be on low-carbon vehicles to avoid "fossil fuel lock-in". Petrol and diesel cars should be phased out.

Despite an "existing large rail infrastructure", rail freight has experienced a "steady decline", with "little sign" of recovery.

"Rapid progress" is also needed on using biofuels across the transport fleet.

Urban sprawl is resulting in congestion on roads leading to major centres of employment and planning policies are needed to prevent this.

Agriculture

While "some progress" has been made in making food production more sustainable, it has not resulted in emission reductions.

All "cost-effective" measures on emissions must be adopted, and there is a "pressing need" to define what "carbon neutrality" means. This concept involves setting out how the agriculture sector can offset emissions from food production by planting trees or managing land to absorb carbon.

Forest cover also needs to be increased. Only 6,800 hectares a year are being planted, which needs to increase to 15,000 hectares to meet a 2050 target.

Irish Independent

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