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Taoiseach, it's time

Posted by Oisín Coghlan on September 29, 2016 at 05:14 PM

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The Taoiseach was addressing the Seanad today and a couple of Senators were interested in raising climate change with him. Here's what I would have said.
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Taoiseach,

Your government has adopted a National Policy Position on Climate Action, underpinned by the Climate Act, that defines Ireland's transition objective for 2050 as an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between energy, housing and transport, and carbon neutrality for agriculture and land use, in line with the lower end of the EU's emissions goal for 2050. And your Government's White Paper on Energy has a target of reducing energy emissions by 80-95% by 2050, in line with the higher end of the EU's goal, and proclaims a vision of a "carbon-free" future for Ireland.

By contrast your Governments' actions have fallen very far short of these decent goals.

There is no climate action plan akin to the the Action Plan for Jobs or the Action Plan for Education. Our last National Climate Change Strategy expired, on your watch, on 31st of December 2012 and almost 4 years later your Government still hasn't published even a draft replacement.

As a result the EPA projects that Ireland will overshoot our annual EU target this year and that by 2020 our emissions will only be 6% below 2005 levels when our binding target is a 20% reduction. And instead of using this failure as a spur to action your government has used it to argue with the European Commission that our 2030 targets should be easier. If your administration put half as much effort into climate action as it does into special pleading on behalf of vested interests we would be much closer to meeting our targets.

This "singular failure to act" as the Stop Climate Chaos coalition called it last week means that our emissions are still 3% above 1990 levels, 26 years on, when our national objective is to have them 80% below 1990 levels in just 34 years time.

Taosieach, do you accept that this means we need transform all sectors of the Irish economy in the coming years, starting now?

Can you assure me that when the National Mitigation Plan is finally produced - before next summer, the legal deadline under the Climate Act - it will lay out a pathway not just to missing our 2020 targets but to meeting those 2050 targets?

In the meantime, the immediate policy-questions to put us on a "carbon-free" path remain unanswered?

Will the Government divest the state's holdings in fossil fuel companies we own through the Irish Strategic Investment Fund. The ISIF is undertaking a broad review now, and now is the time to act, but they are unlikely to do so without a steer from Government.

Your party colleague, Tony McLoughlin, has introduced a bill to ban fracking. Will Fine Gael support a ban if it reaches the floor of the house?

The White Paper makes positive noises about active energy citizens and community participation but there is no follow-up as yet. Will you ensure householders and communities can sell the electricity they generate from rooftop solar panels rather than having to give it away for free to the ESB? That would allow local people turn their schools, their parish halls, their GAA clubs into community-owned power plants.

The Programme for Government acknowledges that Moneypoint cannot continue to burn coal. Can you assure us there is no plan to replace coal with biomass which is impractical and unsustainable at that scale?

And finally, public subsidies of peat burning are due to end over the next couple of years. Will you end peat-burning for electricity by 2020? It gives us only 9% of our power but causes 27% of the emissions from electricity. And co-firing with biomass only prolongs the time that our precious peatlands are uncapped and leaking carbon. 

Taoiseach, your government has no plan to meet our 2020 targets and has secured a sweetheart deal from the EU for 2030. But our climate challenge hasn't gone away. On current trends taxpayers will face a €6bn bill for missing even those lowered 2030 targets. And as the Irish Independent has been detailing this week we are already feeling its effects of actual climate change in Ireland and they are feeling them even harder in parts of Africa where Ireland would once have been a byword for solidarity and partnership not selfish pollution. Taoiseach, it's time to act.

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