Climate report is a dismal technocratic document
National Economic and Social Council report fails to specify real targets or chart a clear course for the future
No one knows how fast we can end our dependence on fossil fuels, the National Economic and Social Council (Nesc) secretariat admits.
“Certainly, no one knows how to achieve decarbonisation at the rate of 5 to 6 per cent per year over the next 50 years that seems necessary to keep global warming to 2 degrees celsius,” it states in its recently completed report, Ireland and the Climate Change Challenge.
Given this admission, one might have expected the report to propose setting targets for each sector of the economy to reduce its carbon emissions over time. But there isn’t a mention of such sectoral targets, or any justification for not setting them.
This is a glaring omission in what Nesc director Dr Rory O’Donnell and his team would regard as an otherwise intellectually rigorous exercise.
But then, they weren’t asked to recommend sectoral targets by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan; he thought his draft legislation on climate change would be fine without them.
The Nesc secretariat report was prepared at the Minister’s request, as part of the preparations for his planned Climate Change Bill.
Hogan confidently expected to get Cabinet approval last week for the heads of his Bill, but that didn’t happen. Following an outcry from environmental groups who argued that any Bill without targets would be both “gutless” and “toothless” (in the words of An Taisce), the draft legislation is now being tweaked.
“We have seen in Ireland that ‘light touch’ and ‘aspirational’ policies have not worked”, said Prof John Sweeney, president of An Taisce and an expert on climate change. “This is true from planning to banking to protection of our natural resources. We know the disastrous consequences which flow from this approach.”
The Nesc report must have been music to Phil Hogan’s ears: “Actions taken to transform energy and reduce carbon emissions must be consistent with economic recovery, employment generation and fiscal correction in the coming years, and with increased Irish prosperity, wellbeing and social development in the decades ahead . . .
“Climate change policy and the transition to carbon neutrality can only work if they engage a wide range of actors – including local authorities, public agencies, firms, researchers, civil society organisations, communities and families – in exploring new possibilities and finding ways to learn from and generalise their innovations.”
What it proposes is that there should be agreement on “broad framework goals [and] freedom for local and sectoral actors to advance these ends as they see fit”, with reporting and review requirements, and “revision of both framework goals and local plans, and of agreed metrics, in the light of comparison and experience”.