Towards a low carbon society

Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:40

It is all very well for Pat Rabbitte to rebrand us all as “energy citizens”, collectively probing Ireland’s pathway towards a “low-carbon, inclusive, competitive and secure energy society”. But the Minister for Energy and the Government must set the overall framework of goals and policies to enable citizens to play an active role in achieving this aspiration in the context of environmental sustainability. And this, inevitably, will require a concerted campaign across all sectors of the economy to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and play our part in combatting climate change.

Figures released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearly show that, in all probability, we will fail to meet EU targets for cutting in emissions by 2020 from agriculture, transport and the built environment. Even under a “best case scenario”, these are likely to be only 5 to 12 per cent below 2005 levels rather than the 20 per cent required by EU legislation. In short, as EPA director-general Laura Burke bluntly stated, we are “not on track to becoming a low-carbon economy” and this will become “an even more pressing challenge as the economy begins to improve”.

Under the most optimistic projections, emissions from agriculture and transport are set to rise by 15 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively -- even with the use of more renewable energy, such as wind power and electric cars, but also driven -- in the case of agriculture -- by Food Harvest 2020, the industry-led expansion programme. And while farming organisations have been strongly pressing the Government to argue that Irish agriculture is less environmentally damaging than in other EU member states, the case for such exceptionalism would be more credible if we had a coherent approach to energy use.

The Green Paper on energy policy makes no explicit commitments -- for example, to close down the coal-fired Moneypoint power station, which is Ireland’s largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions. And while it acknowledges the “vital” importance of using energy more efficiently, the paper glosses over the fact that funding for Warmer Homes and similar “retrofit” schemes has been slashed over the past three years; as An Taisce pointed out, the number of homes benefitting from grants for better insulation and other measures is down by at least half and up to four-fold in some cases. This is surely a false economy, given that the paybacks are so significant in helping to reduce emissions.

It is important that as many people as possible should express their views on Mr Rabbitte’s Green Paper before the July 31st deadline. The Minister (or his successor, after the now-inevitable Cabinet reshuffle) needs to hear the message that reducing energy demand should be given at least as high a priority as switching to renewable sources such as wind power.

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