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A once in a generation opportunity to contain climate change: 12 steps to quit fossil fuels

5 Feb 2019

Under the Paris Agreement 195 countries have agreed to work to limit global warming to 1.5C. The latest scientific assessment by the UN said this will “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. We have to cut our polluting emissions in half by 2030 and to near zero by 2050, which means Irish emissions have to fall 6-7% year-on-year, every year, from now to 2050. Of course, Irish emissions are rising not falling, and even the Taoiseach has admitted we are a laggard.

But there is hope. The Citizens' Assembly report on climate change came up with far-reaching but practical proposals. As a special all-party Oireachtas committee grapples with how to progress them and the new Minister, Richard Bruton, is promising a new "all-of-government climate action plan", we are proposing a 12-step programme to quit fossil fuels. This "Green New Deal" would deliver warmer homes that are cheaper to run, community-owned renewable electricity, better public transport with lower fares, and greater transparency and accountability in Government decision making.

Key elements of a Green New Deal: 12 steps to overcome our fossil fuel addiction

1. An SSIA-scheme for insulation
We need to upgrade at least 100,000 homes a year between now at 2030. Householders are going to have to invest themselves, but the state has to make it attractive and simple. Something like the old SSIA scheme, for every €4 you invest in retrofitting your home the state gives you €1.

2. A 'Tipperary Energy Agency for every county'
Householders also need project management support to figure out what they need to get done and what contractor to trust to do it and at what price. The Tipperary Energy Agency has built up an unrivalled capability and reputation for doing that well in a way that appeals to people (it's about warmer homes, with healthier air and lower bills as much as lower emissions). We need to scale up the same capacity in every county in Ireland, with a support agency that has the reach, the resources and the trust to deliver, modelled on the success of Tipp Energy.

3. Every new house must be zero carbon
Houses last for a 100 years. And we need cut our emissions in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. Given how leaky and polluting our current housing stock is every new house we build from now on has to be zero carbon. This also means new homes are warmer, healthier, cheaper to run, and future-proofed.

4. Prioritize upgrading social housing
The Government must resource and mandate local authorities to upgrade the existing social housing stock as an absolute priority. And all new social housing must be zero carbon. The benefits of the transition must be inclusive and leave no one behind.

5. Every school a solar school, and u nlock the rooftop revolution
Every school should have solar panels on their roofs generating electricity and generating income. So should parish halls, sports clubs and farm buildings. It’s happening across Europe but it doesn’t happen here because you have to give away any power you don’t use to the ESB for free, so it doesn’t make economic sense to invest. Ireland does community-scale well, from Tidy Towns to GAA. We know there’s huge enthusiasm for community energy. We need to unlock that potential with a rooftop revolution that puts citizens at the heart of the energy transition, making it something that’s done by and with them, not to them by large companies making a killing.

6. A Just Transition Taskforce
Whenever a US multinational announces it is closing a factory, overnight the Government sets up a taskforce with the state agencies to support the workers find new jobs. We have known for 20 years that we have to stop burning coal an d peat for electricity and Government is still dragging its heels. We need a Just Transition Taskforce now, with representatives from the unions, the ESB and Bord Na Mona, all the state agencies, NGOs like Irish Rural Link and local community development representatives. It needs to have the resources and the authority to support the affected workers, and their families and communities, to plan for a sustainable future and realize it.

7. Leave Moneypoint offline
Our only coal-fired power plant, Moneypoint, is actually closed and has been for months, due to a fault. And the lights are still on, proving we don’t need to burn coal even during peak winter demand. Serious consideration should be given to leaving Moneypoint offline. Coal provided just 12% of our electricity in 2017 but over 29% of our climate pollution from electricity.

8. Stop burning peat for electricity
Peat is even worse, providing just 7% of our electricity but producing 20% of our pollution. We’ve been subsidizing that to the tune of more than €100 million a year. That direct subsidy ends in 2019, but Bord na Mona wants to keep burning peat for another 10 years. And it wants to grab a chunk of the subsidies for wind and solar to make it economically viable, by co-firing its power plants with wood. We should just stop burning peat in 2020 and use the subsidies we save to support the affected workers and communities.

9. Invest in public transport, cycling and walking; and reduce fares
Transport is the area our pollution has risen fastest. We should implement the very simple Citizens' Assembly recommendation that 1/3 of the transport budget should go on roads and 2/3 should go to public transport, cycling and walking (reversing the current ratio). And we should implement the UN recommendation that 20% of the transport budget should go to enabling safe cycling and walking (less than 2% does now) as that also tackles obesity and promotes healthy lifestyles.

We also need to reduce bus, tram and train fares to make them more accessible and attractive. Ireland has one of the lowest public transport subsidies in Europe. Luxembourg recently became the first country to announce all public transport will be free from 2020. As long ago as 2007 the Labour party proposed a €1 flat fee for all bus fares in Dublin.

10. 5-year Carbon Budgets
The new climate and energy plan should come with two 5-year carbon budgets, voted on by the Dáil. That’s simply the total amount of pollution Ireland will emit from 2021-2025 and 2026-2030. Departments then negotiate within that for their share of the pie, just like the fiscal budget and implement policies to stay within their budget. At the moment there’s nothing to translate national targets into Departmental discipline.

11. Carbon Impact Assessments
No Government policy that might affect our emissions should be adopted by Cabinet in the dark. They should run the numbers and estimate how much emissions will go up or down. That assessment should be in front of Cabinet when they make the decision and it should be published when they announce any new policy, plan or programme.

Between them these two policy instruments ensure that all Departments, sectors and policies have to have emissions reductions as an absolute priority from now on.

12. A cheque in the post
We are going to need to increase the price on carbon, in line with the polluter pays principle. It will give a steady signal that every time we have a choice, choosing the less polluting option will save us money, as will investing in energy saving. But we have to do the carbon tax in a way that protects the most vulnerable and is socially fair.

We support the suggested 'carbon tax and refund' scheme where the increase in the carbon tax would go straight back to people as a equal lump sum 'cheque-in-the-post'. If you spend less than the average person on polluting things you end up with a cash bonus. If you spend more than the average person on polluting things you end up out of pocket. Less well off households spend less on average than richer households on polluting goods so they end up a little better off under a carbon tax and refund scheme.

It’s important to remember that carbon tax is not a silver bullet – there is no silver bullet – but we know it incentivizes and accelerates the adoption of every other solution by households and businesses. So, in Budget 2020 the Dáil should vote for an €20 increase in the carbon tax from 1 January 2020 and for a €5 increase every year after that. And on 1 January 2020 we should all get our first carbon tax refund cheque in the post, on the same day we start paying the increased rate.

Sue Scott carbon levy and 100% equal dividend income distribution impact slide

Slide from a presentation by Sue Scott.

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