Reflecting on the Programme for Government 2020
Posted by Oisín Coghlan on August 04, 2020 at 05:14 PM
The Programme for Government was a hot topic when it was published in June. It generated much discussion and debate among many in the climate movement. With that in mind, we’d like to share a few thoughts on Friends of the Earth’s approach to evaluating the Programme for Government 2020.
Let’s start by rewinding back to spring 2020. Before the general election, together with other members of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, we set out a range of policy demands for ‘faster and fairer climate action’, these included reducing emissions by at least 8% a year, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and supporting a community-led renewable revolution, supporting sustainable agriculture and protecting nature. We sent our demands to all the political parties, and asked all candidates to pledge to support them. Climate activists hit the pavements and did a fantastic job to boost the profile of these demands - canvassing voters to prime them to raise climate change and the agreed demands with election candidates.
Pre-election policy demands for faster and fairer climate action
Now fast forward to June 2020. When the proposed Programme for Government was released, policy experts from An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, Trocaire, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and other members of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition got together. They analysed the Programme for Government proposal against our policy demands, with input from the likes of Prof John Sweeney, Ireland's leading climate scientist. There was consensus among that group that this Programme for Government was, objectively, the strongest on climate action of any government since 1997 when Ireland signed the Kyoto Protocol. And it was the strongest by far.
In fact, some of the policies that Friends of the Earth had been campaigning on for years were now set to become official Government policies. Take the Climate Law - that we’ve been campaigning for since 2007. The Programme for Government promised to introduce a law very similar to what we’ve been asking for, with legally binding five year targets. Not only that but it promised to end new licenses for offshore gas exploration and formulate a policy to prevent the import of fracked gas via LNG terminals. It promised a just transition for peat and coal workers and support for community scale solar and other renewable energy projects. There was good news on the transport front too - with a commitment to a 2:1 ratio of investment in public transport over roads. Plus €1 million euro a day for cycling and walking infrastructure. In comparison to the previous government’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, the Programme for Government 2020 represented a very significant step forward, including the commitment to cut Irish emissions by 50% by 2030, twice the cut the outgoing government was planning.
Both the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Friends of the Earth made our analysis public, which attracted quite a bit of attention - even some criticism. But if the Programme for Government was simply the 2020 Climate Action Plan we would have analysed it and welcomed it in the same way. Friends of the Earth and Stop Climate Chaos are non-partisan. We can't say that we do or don’t like certain policies because particular parties are proposing them. We can only say whether we think the policies are good or bad. As registered public-interest, not-for-profit organizations and charities we can't, by law, say that we would prefer one party to be in Government over another. All we can do is say whether policy commitments represent progress on climate action or not. Our analysis showed that the Programme for Government 2020 represented significant progress in this regard. And we made that analysis public.
Of course, progress is not the same as perfection. The Programme for Government still leaves a lot to be desired. That’s why we’ll be fighting harder than ever to push the new Government to do better. We’ll hold it to account for the promises it has made. Because we know that no matter who is in government we can't rely on TDs, ministers and officials to act without sustained public pressure. But we’ll also go further than that again - agitating for deeper, more systemic changes that address the roots of the climate crisis.
It’s worth saying that we only analysed the climate elements of the Programme for Government, assessing it against the nine demands that we made before the election. That was the specific job we agreed to do. But we know that climate justice requires action on many more separate, but deeply interconnected issues. There is no climate justice without racial justice and social justice. There is no climate justice without a switch away from the neoliberal economic system that is at the root of climate injustice. That’s why we need to keep fighting for much deeper and more radical system change. The role of grassroots movements is critical here. Movements lead, politicians follow.
We simply can’t rely on any political party or government to achieve the deep transformation that we require. Instead we must play our part to support the growth and vibrancy of movements for justice - building our collective power to the point where we win our demands regardless of what political party happens to be in power. We can do this by uniting our struggles, recognising the interconnections between them, building power as we build connections. At Friends of the Earth, we look forward to developing our role as a piece in this movement, both supporting, and learning from, grassroots groups. We’ve come a long way, but we have so much further yet to travel.
As Mark Ruffalo, long time campaigner against fracking, said at a webinar with the Green Party on the Programme for Government, pledges to ban fracked gas imports, elections and policy commitments are just commas in the campaign story. We’ve achieved some important “commas” and we should celebrate them. But rest assured, we’ve got our eye on full sentences, paragraphs even. Working together, with our allies and supporters, we can create a story to be proud of. And achieve the faster and fairer climate action we so desperately need.