In the protracted negotiations to form a government, the issue of Ireland’s role in responding to the greatest challenge facing humanity – climate change – is not to the fore. Commenting on the climate issue, the conservation group An Taisce says that our high emissions means that, per person, we in Ireland are big contributors to the global climate problem and that we will soon face enormous fines by the EU of €600 million per year for missing our emission reduction targets. This is despite our ‘special case‘ plea to the EU and the fact that Acting Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly was in New York last week to sign the UN Climate Agreement drawn up in Paris last December.
Increases in global temperature in 2015 and in the first three months of 2016 are being described by scientist as ‘off the charts’. Many developing countries are being hit hard by the resulting extreme weather events. Rising sea levels means that the sea is encroaching on many low-lying islands and coastal regions around the world. Last week, scientists have confirmed that 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered a severe bleaching event, leaving much of the world’s largest living structure ‘dead or dying’. Meanwhile, more than 12% of Greenland’s massive ice pack began melting earlier this month, the earliest ‘summer’ melt ever recorded. We in Ireland are not escaping the impact of climate change. We have been victim to heavy rainfall and the devastation severe storms have wreaked during our recent winters. Unfortunately, with our increasing emissions, these storms, like Storm Desmond last year will only increase in ferocity and frequency.
Many climate scientists say that we are now in a climate emergency. Here in Ireland An Taisce is highly critical of Ireland’s response. The organisation has a climate change subcommittee that is chaired by Dr Barry McMullin of DCU and includes climate scientist John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth.
Dr Barry McMullin, Chair of An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee
In a statement An Taisce says: “We are missing EU targets that themselves fall far short of the immediate effort needed to match the far more challenging climate targets we agreed to at Paris. … Instead of the sharp reductions we are legally mandated to achieve, Irish agriculture is due to increase its emissions by 6-7%, while transport emissions are set to climb by between 10-16% versus their 2014 levels. An Taisce also highlights the adverse impact of other sources of emissions – the 20% increase in coal being used at Moneypoint power plant last year and 11% increase in Ireland’s aviation emissions in a single year.
John Gibbons a spokesperson for An Taisce said: “Our new Climate Act mandates a transition pathway to a low carbon future. Instead we are doing the exact opposite. We are choosing a path of short-term financial gain, intentionally adding to global impacts and undermining our future well-being. Why are we being so foolish?”
So what examples of positive steps are there? An Taisce points to the recent decision by the Dutch Parliament to phase out all new non-electric vehicles from its national fleet by 2025. The group says that Ireland needs to make such a decision and send out signals to the market that will further encourage industry to switch to zero or near-zero emissions technology. Such decisions would lead to emissions reduction and so reduce fines, leaving more money for hospitals and schools.
Concluding his remarks, John Gibbons said: “In an era of deepening international environmental crisis, Ireland is increasingly behaving like a ‘rogue state’, with politicians afraid to lead, many public officials afraid of change and a system in thrall to special interests. We as a nation are entitled to expect much better, for this generation and more especially, for the next.”
Further commentary by John Gibbons on the climate change issue is available at http://www.thinkorswim.ie.