Thursday 18 July 2019

John Downing: 'Government to use both carrot and stick as it aims to win support for environmental overhaul'

 

The Government has noted that diesel prices encouraged the huge “yellow vest” demonstrations in France. Photo: Michel Euler/AP
The Government has noted that diesel prices encouraged the huge “yellow vest” demonstrations in France. Photo: Michel Euler/AP
John Downing

John Downing

There will be carrots and there will be sticks in this long-awaited Government strategy to confront climate change. Carrots will include a scrappage scheme to encourage the switch to electric cars and a promised big increase in the lamentably few charging points available at present.

The sticks will include phasing out the price differential between petrol and diesel at the pump and a ban on petrol and diesel cars from town centres.

That is a tricky issue. The Government has noted that diesel prices encouraged the huge "yellow vest" demonstrations in France - and diesel is the beating heart of provincial Ireland.

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Road tax will be re-configured to favour electric vehicles and everything will build to a total ban on new petrol and diesel cars within a decade, in 2030. All such cars will be gonged off the road entirely by 2045.

There will be a range of things which will prompt people to ask: why were these not done sooner?

These include making all public buses electric, establishing a "park and ride" development office to foster parking at the edge of big towns and a switch to public transport. People who have been in Britain in recent years will see that they are way ahead of Ireland on that.

There is also a plan to establish car-sharing offices in provincial towns. Now anyone who does a frequent commute into Dublin, and the other big centres, will often have wondered why there are so many tin cans belching out smog, with just one person inside.

We're back again in tricky political terrain when it comes to the carbon tax. This will go from its current €10 per tonne to €80 by 2030.

Here again it's about keeping people with the Government showing that there is a fair rebate system, either through welfare or taxes. There will be opportunist politicians who will stir this issue if they can.

There are promised measures to encourage pension providers to avoid investing in fossil fuels and favouring alternatives. That one will be watched with some interest.

So too will a pledge that the Government's big "Project 2040" development plans will be re-thought to give priority to low carbon projects.

We're back with many things already done or planned for in other EU countries when it comes to electricity and gas companies. These must provide more detail on potential savings - but while at it they should make their bills more comprehensible generally.

There are ambitious targets to have 70pc of energy from renewable sources by 2030. A microgeneration scheme - already operating in Germany and other places for some years - will allow people to create their own energy and sell excess electricity back to the grid by 2021. New working groups are to engage with heavy energy users like cement producers and the food and drink industries.

A popular one if properly managed will see homeowners get funding to retrofit insulation.

The money could then be repaid via energy bills or the local property tax.

The local authorities are to be allowed to link commercial rates to a business's BER rating and there is to be a "one-stop shop" for residential and commercial energy efficiency upgrades. Buildings undergoing big refurbishment must upgrade their BER rating.

We're back with the stick again with a ban in new dwellings on oil boilers from 2022 and gas boilers from 2025. There will be a long overdue levy on single-use plastic modelled on the successful plastic bag tax.

There is a stress on education with the school curriculum to be updated and a junior cycle course on the issue. That should help with the hard, uphill sell which starts from today.

Will it work? Time will tell but it contains good things.

Irish Independent

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