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Independence and resources the key tests for new Climate Council

10 Jun 2015

The appointment of Ireland's first Climate Change Advisory Council is a welcome milestone

Commenting, Friends of the Earth Director, Oisín Coghlan said


Overall

"The Minister named a strong line-up for this first Council today. The question now is will they be given the explicit legal protection to do their job independently and the resources to do it properly."

Minister must amend the Climate Bill

"The Minister said yesterday during the Committee Stage of the Climate Bill that he would look at including an explicit statement on the Council's independence by way of an amendment to the Bill at Report Stage.
"The independence of the Fiscal Advisory Council is underpinned by law. The same protection is essential for the Climate Advisory Council, especially with ex-officio members who might otherwise be looking over their shoulders to their Boards and stakeholders.

Government must staff Council adequately

"The other necessity is proper resources. The Fiscal Advisory Council has four research analysts working for it. There has been no commitment to new staff for the Climate Council. Without adequate staff the Council will be hobbled from the start. The decision on resourcing the Council will be a mark of Government's seriousness on climate action. Alan Kelly needs to persuade his party colleague and former environment minister, Brendan Howlin, that this is a crucial investment in the transition to a low carbon future.

On the make-up of the Council or "How many economists does it take to change an energy system?"

"There are A LOT of economists on the Council. Six of the seven independent members are economists. The decision not to include a natural scientist is odd. And the fact that only two of the 11 members are women is disappointing, there were excellent women candidates who could have been appointed.

The challenge for the council

"Economists can sometimes be idealistic or short-termist in their climate policy analysis and prescriptions. Idealistic in proposing a single carbon price nationally or globally as the best answer and disregarding all other policy interventions as "inefficient". And short-termist in highlighting the immediate costs of action and discounting the longer-term costs of inaction.
"Progress and change don't follow ideal economically efficient models. Progress is clunky and contested. People don't always respond smoothly to general price signals, they respond to more tangible measures that are sometimes overlapping and messy, like VRT linked to emissions and grants for insulation. If we wait for some economically ideal moment to act we run the real risk of missing the chance to contain climate change at all.

"Moreover, what appear as costs to a particular sector in the near-term are often better understood as investments that benefit the whole of society. Indeed there has been an over-focus on cost calculation and not enough attention to the benefits of action. To give the most simple example, if I invest in insulating my home I am not just reducing emissions I'm also making my home warmer, lowering my heating bill and helping create employment.
"These 'co-benefits' are rarely factored in to Government decision making fully. I hope the Council will remedy that and also weave them into the story they tell the public about why we must take climate action, as the co-benefits are often more tangible and more immediate than the abstraction of degrees of warming and parts per million.
"Ban-Ki Moon said on his recent trip to Ireland climate action has been for too long stymied by 'entrenched national interests', and as Mary Robinson puts it we are the first generation to fully understand the danger of climate change and the last that has the power to make a difference. The Council is being appointed under the Climate Action Bill and they will need to be advocates for adequate as well as effective action. They will have to be prepared to consistently speak inconvenient truths to power, as their counterpart in the UK has regularly done.
"The only truly 'inefficient' outcome here is the one where nationally and internationally we don't do enough to avert the threat of runaway climate change. There will be no soft landing for Ireland or humanity if the climate crisis becomes a climate crash. And nature doesn't do bailouts."

Notes:

  1. The Department press release is here: http://www.environ.ie/en/Environment/Atmosphere/ClimateChange/News/MainBody,41743,en.htm
  2. Unlocking Opportunity - The Irish Corporate Leaders on Climate Change 2014 report on the business case for taking climate action in Ireland is here: http://www.foe.ie/assets/files/pdf/unlocking_opportunity_the_business_case_for_climate_action_in_ireland.pdf
  3. Oisin Coghlan discusses the Climate Advisory Council and the Climate Bill on this week's Irish Times Business podcast here: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/business-podcast

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