IS IT JUST “BUSINESS AS USUAL, WITH NOTHING TO ROCK THE BOAT”?
Climate disruption is already having diverse and wide-ranging impacts on Ireland’s environment, society, economic and natural resources. The Government says that their new Climate Action Plan sets out an ambitious course of action over the coming years to address the issue. While county councils are still busy drafting their area Climate Adaptation Strategies, Richard Bruton’s All of Government Climate Plan, with its almost 200 actions to address climate change on the island of Ireland, was published on Monday, 17 June. We take a look at the Plan and the reaction to it.
The Plan outlines the current situation across key sectors including Electricity, Transport, Built Environment, Industry and Agriculture and charts a course towards what the Government says are “ambitious decarbonisation targets”. It sets out governance arrangements that include carbon-proofing our policies, establishing carbon budgets, strengthening the Climate Change Advisory Council and greater accountability to the Oireachtas.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Speaking on Newstalk, Environmental Scientist and UCD Environmental Policy Fellow, Dr Cara Augustenborg suggested that the success of the Plan will be largely dependent on the focus and cohesion of government as they implement clearly defined actions to stringent timelines. Extinction Rebellion’s response to the Plan was to call it “unambitious” and coming “nowhere near close to achieving the emissions reductions needed in order to save our children from a devastating future”.
BIODIVERSITY LARGELY IGNORED
In its press release, the Irish Wildlife Trust expressed disappointment that Nature and the biodiversity crisis has been “largely ignored”. Campaign Officer Pádraic Fogarty is quoted as saying, “the Government is still failing to join the dots on our climate and biodiversity crises, or the broader issues linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In doing so, they are failing to grasp the full scale of the opportunity which restoring nature brings”.
EMISSIONS AND AGRICULTURE
Taxes outlined in the Plan cover single-use plastics and regulation of carbon, with allocated carbon budgets for every sector, to ensure that we can meet our 2030 targets and avoid massive fines in the region of €7 billion. Agriculture, which is a major carbon contributor, has had some challenging targets set as regards reducing its emissions, managing livestock and efficient land use. Pat McCormack, from the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association, pointed out that even if farmers were playing their part it would still be “up to the Government to drive and incentivise the policies. That has to mean real support for renewables and carbon-mitigation efforts, with the Government actively helping by giving farmers options and not just standing back while issuing targets, deadlines and penalties”.
HOMES AND TRANSPORT
Energy retrofitting models will be introduced to improve the energy efficiency of houses, with an increased focus on renewable energy sources and the added option of selling excess energy back to the grid. Although the increase in retrofitting is to be welcomed, the Irish Green Building Council CEO Pat Barry criticised financing proposals as “vague, when the Government could instead influence the banks to provide green mortgages immediately”. He went on to say: “The Plan, as expected, is a rehash and incremental improvement on the national climate and energy action plans, and boils down to technological fixes such as electric cars and heat pumps, i.e. measures that require no behaviour change. So, even though it talks about major behaviour change, it does not deliver. It is really business as usual, with nothing to rock the boat.”
Transport considerations centred primarily around increasing the use of electric vehicles. More electric cars are not going to increase the efficiency of the transport system. Cara Augustenborg called for a “modal shift that looks more at developing public transport”. Planes and aviation were only touched on and airport development plans will definitely need to be future-proofed, unfortunately this has not been addressed.
DISPLACED PEOPLE & FOOD SECURITY
Another striking omission is allowances for refugees and people displaced by war, famine and extreme weather events. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees gives a figure of displaced people that has now topped 70 million. This is likely to increase and accommodating refugees, and planning for their integration into local communities is something that Ireland will definitely need to consider. As is food security; food is one of the most basic human requirements for life and something that should be near the top of the list when it comes to planning for survival. As pointed out by Lisa Fingleton of The Local Food Project, organic is mentioned only once in the entire document and vegetables don’t even make an appearance.
OPPORTUNITY TO ACT
We have a small window of opportunity, right now, to change our destiny and we should be grabbing that opportunity with both hands and doing everything in our power to save ourselves from climate catastrophe. It is vitally important that the Government facilitates action and makes it feasible and affordable for every family and every sector to achieve the targets that have been highlighted in this Plan. Otherwise it is essentially meaningless and just another tick in another box.