Monday 23 September 2019

Paul Melia: 'Climate change plan can't just pay lip service to 'key challenge of our time''

Extremes: Waves hit the shore during Storm Ophelia last year.
Photo: PA
Extremes: Waves hit the shore during Storm Ophelia last year. Photo: PA
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Our collective failure to act on climate change is coming home to roost.

Not only are Ireland and countries across the globe forced to endure more extreme weather events on a more frequent basis, the State's failure to reduce emissions is incurring a hefty price tag.

This week, Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton revealed that €120m has been spent since 2007 on carbon credits. Failure to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels has effectively forced the State to buy their way out of their obligations, but the bill doesn't end there.

Missing 2020 emission reduction and renewable energy targets could cost as much as €103m, the minister added. A decade of standing still could end up depriving public services of more than €200m in funding.

The extent of the climate problem is well known, but the picture gets grimmer by the week. The World Meteorological Organisation has revealed greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere hit a new record high, as members of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told TDs and senators that when it comes to tackling the problem, every half degree of warming matters, as does each passing year and every action.

The heads of 15 European countries, including President Michael D Higgins, yesterday issued a call for collective action, saying the issue was the "key challenge of our time" and noting this was the first generation to experience the rapid increase in temperatures around the globe, and probably the last to effectively combat an impending climate crisis.

"Our situation is grave and urgent. This is our duty, to ourselves, to future generations, and to our shared, vulnerable planet," Mr Higgins said.

Next month, negotiations take place in Poland on developing the so-called Paris 'rulebook' - essentially the terms of how the global climate agreement struck in the French capital in 2015 will be enacted.

In Ireland, the Government has promised an action plan on climate, akin to the plan on jobs, with Government departments to set out how they will decarbonise the economy and in what timeframe. There are some signs that the issue is coming into political focus, and that politicians are catching up with the public mood.

The ambition in the new plan will tell us whether it's lip service, or a real commitment.

There are some positives. The Dáil Committee on Climate Action, tasked with bringing the Citizens' Assembly recommendations on climate change into being, has been busy.

This week, its chair Hildegarde Naughton ordered Government departments to report back in two weeks with tangible actions to tackle emissions following criticism they had failed to produce specific plans and timelines.

The vexed issue of the carbon tax has again come into play, with the Economic and Social Research Institute warning that without additional policies to reduce emissions, the tax levied on heating and motoring fuels would have to rise from €20 per tonne to at least €300, putting many families to the pin of their collar.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan called for cross-party consensus to set out how it will rise over time - with vulnerable families to be protected, a suggestion seized upon by the Taoiseach, who has asked the committee to examine the issue.

If implemented, it would mean that regardless of which party is in government, a clear signal would be in place to decarbonise.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle's Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill is close to going through the Dáil; it will ban State investment in fossil fuel stocks, making Ireland among the first in the world to do so.

The news on People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith's Climate Emergency Bill, aimed at banning fossil fuel exploration, is less positive. It's at committee stage, and the Government's attitude will be a clear signal of intent, she says.

"There's a lot of lobbying from the oil industry, talking about the role of nuclear and our lack of energy security. I'm not sure if Fine Gael and some of the Independents will support it, it's touch and go. But there is a shift, and they (Government) have to act.

"If they block this we'll know how serious they are about action," said Ms Smith.

Irish Independent

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