Call for constitutionally-protected right to a healthy environment

Environmental groups to consider how Ireland can be leader in tackling climate change

The alliance of environmental groups has  called for   coal-burning at Moneypoint power station to stop by 2022,  much sooner than is planned. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

The alliance of environmental groups has called for coal-burning at Moneypoint power station to stop by 2022, much sooner than is planned. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

 

The Citizens’ Assembly should call for a referendum to give a constitutional right to environmental protection to the people of Ireland, according to an alliance of leading environmental groups.

This would help ensure more effective implementation of Irish actions to counter human-induced climate change, the coalition of 26 organisations said in a submission to the assembly.

It is to consider this autumn “how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change”.

“Giving the people the constitutionally-protected right to live in a healthy environment would encourage politicians to take real long-term actions, and ensure that those actions are not diluted with the change of guard at Dáil Éireann every five years,” the Environmental Pillar (EP) said.

It was among hundreds of submissions filed by Friday’s deadline.

The assembly had an unparalleled opportunity to use its unique position to propose an amendment to the Constitution, “and fill the gap left by government inaction on climate change”, the environmental groups added.

In a separate document – with the campaign group Stop Climate Chaos Coalition – 18 detailed recommendations were outlined, which if adopted would indicate the State is bringing years of inaction to an end; moving Ireland to the level of most of our EU partners, and taking a leadership role in certain areas, “notwithstanding our poor record to date”, said SCCC spokesman Oisín Coughlan.

Commitments

The document sets out how long-standing commitments to help Ireland meet existing targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved.

Specifically, it calls for an end to the use of peat to generate electricity in the midlands by 2020, and for coal-burning at Moneypoint power station to stop by 2022 – much sooner than is planned.

The government was first advised in 1998 that such peat and coal use needed to cease, and more environmentally-acceptable energy sources needed to be adopted.

The group also outlined best practice being achieved in other countries, which if adopted here “would kickstart a real transformation”.

“This process demonstrates that citizens are capable of showing the sort of leadership on climate change that our politicians have so far failed to take. The Citizens’ Assembly can be the catalyst for transformational change that will put Ireland on a path to a genuinely low-carbon society,” said Mr Coughlan.

Every Irish government since 1990 had endorsed the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the serious implications of climate change, and “yet the State’s response has failed to deliver a meaningful response”, said Environmental Pillar spokesman Dr John Sweeney, an emeritus professor at Maynooth University.

Energy producers

The Government had introduced legislation for climate action in 2015, but it did not cover the activities of some semi-States, including many of our major energy producers such as Bord na Mona.

“The decisions of these companies are key to Ireland’s emissions and our contribution to climate change, and the fact that they are either partially or explicitly exempt shows the Act is a weak and inadequate piece of legislation,” said Dr Sweeney.

A constitutional approach to addressing climate change would yield benefits to the economy, society, and, most importantly, to the health of Irish citizens, said Donna Mullen of the EP.

“Already 1,200 people are dying prematurely from air pollution in Ireland each year, with over 150,000 deaths across the globe already attributed to climate change every year.”

Agriculture

Environmental sustainability must be considered in tandem with economic and social sustainability, IFA president Joe Healy said in its submission to the Assembly. Ireland had a responsibility to act to tackle climate change, and agriculture had an important role to play, but the need to safeguard food production must be respected, he added.

The guiding focus of EU and international climate policy is on emission-efficient food production, rather than reducing food production, he noted. “A strong agriculture sector in Ireland is critical to a balanced economy. Agriculture provides employment and generates earnings across the country and our national greenhouse gas emissions reflects the importance of agriculture to the country.”

He added: “Not all sectors are the same, with agriculture having other obligations, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As such climate change cannot be dealt with in isolation. Wider policy objectives and societal implications must also be considered. This point is accepted in national, European and international climate policy and is worth consideration.”

In agriculture, Mr Healy said Ireland was already taking a leading position in Europe by targeting European funding through the Common Agriculture Policy to areas that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector. He said 87 per cent of the measures in Ireland’s Rural Development Programme had “climate-reducing elements”.