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Lack of political leadership on climate change fed opposition to wind energy - Today's Climate Bill can reset debate

15 Apr 2014

Lack of political leadership on climate change fed opposition to wind energy - Today's Climate Bill can reset debate

Friends of the Earth has claimed that a lack of political leadership on climate change has fed opposition to wind energy and that strong climate change legislation can reset the public debate on renewable energy. The claim comes as opponents of wind energy gather for a national protest in Dublin and the Cabinet is due to decide on the shape of the long-awaited Climate Bill.

Commenting, Friends of the Earth Director, Oisín Coghlan, said

"This Government has been noticeably silent on the challenges and opportunities posed by tackling climate change. There has been no leadership on the rapid transition we face to stop the climate crisis becoming a climate crash.

"Instead people see only individual pieces of the jigsaw - some policies they mostly like, such as home insulation grants, and some which many dislike such as the carbon tax or plans for new pylons. The public is never shown the picture on the front of the jigsaw box - the sustainable future we are trying to build.

"That's a key aim of introducing climate legislation. To have that national conversation. For our leaders to articulate their vision of a low-carbon Ireland and the choices we face in getting there and to engage the public in a real debate on our options.

"Ireland ratified the UN climate convention 20 years ago this week and in the intervening decades no Government has led a proper national debate nor adopted a robust action plan and stuck with it. Our greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, the latest year we have data for, are the same as they were in 1994, at 58mt. The IPCC and the EU reckon we will need to drop to between 3 and 12mt by 2050."

The Climate Bill, due to be debated by Cabinet today, is an opportunity for leadership. To have the national debate and decide on a national objective. To lay out a robust framework for policy-making based on evidence and to ensure there is independent oversight and parliamentary accountability for the action plans we adopt.

Commenting, Mr Coghlan continued:

"Politicians often tell us that climate change is not an issue on the doorsteps. Our answer is simple: banking regulation was not an issue on the doorsteps in 2002 or even 2007 but voters would have been grateful if you'd heeded the warning signs of an overheating economy."

"Indeed we see parallels between the causes of the financial crisis and the causes of the climate crisis: poorly understood risk, a short-term focus on business-as-usual, and faith in "light-touch" regulation. We cannot afford to repeat those mistakes. If we let the climate crisis become a crash there is no way back. Nature doesn't do bailouts.

"The Climate Bill is the equivalent of the banking regulation we should have had 10 years ago. To engineer anything like a soft-landing as we make the transition to a low-carbon future, however, means we need to ensure the Bill is robust enough to work, unlike the weak draft the Government published a year ago."

The Oireachtas environment committee gave the Government's draft very careful consideration last year, hearing from over 20 stakeholder groups and experts. Their report is a fair reflection of the balance of perspectives they heard. It by no means recommends everything Friends of the Earth has been calling for, but its proposals would restore integrity to the Bill.

This is the key test for the Government. Will they implement the proposals in the Committee's report. It's a test not just for their seriousness on climate change, days after the IPCC's latest report stressed the affordability and urgency of action, it's a test of their credibility on political reform. Pre-legislative scrutiny by Oireachtas Committees is the cornerstone of the Government's Dáil reform. How will it look if they ignore this Committee's report?

The Bill itself is in fact a key piece of political reform - with the aim of introducing expert advice, timely planning and action, and transparency and accountability into an area of national policy-making where they have been sorely missing.

The key questions to look out for when the revised draft is published today or tomorrow, are the following:

  1. Has the Government included in the Bill a "national objective" for 2050. Minister Hogan has articulated one: "near-zero emissions in transport, energy and buildings and carbon neutrality for agriculture". But will it be in the Bill?
  2. Will the Government make the expert advisory body statutorily independent, free of ex-officio members, and able to publish its own reports? The Oireachtas Committee proposed the model of the Fiscal Advisory Council and Minister Hogan assured them he would "not be found wanting".
  3. Will the Government reverse plans to adopt sectoral plans first, drawn up by "home" departments, without any reference to a national plan? Many fear this would lead to a lowest-common-denominator patchwork of path-of-least-resistance measures that just won't deliver the transition. What's needed is a national plan where the whole-of-government has considered the trade-offs and taken responsibility for the decisions, with relevant ministers accountable to the Dáil
  4. Will the Government include the principle of climate justice in the Bill? The Tánaiste proclaimed Ireland's support for climate justice to the UN in New York in 2011 and co-hosted an international conference with Mary Robinson last year to emphasise that commitment. Now it's time to start putting into practice.

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