Setting a course for inaction of climate change

While the Government insists the mitigation plan is not a “wait and see” exercise, evidence points to the contrary

 

The Paris Accord on Climate change, brokered in the dying days of 2015, was one of those exceptional historic moments. A total of 195 countries committed to hold the rise in average global temperature to well below 2°Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Translating those ambitious goals into reality will necessitate really painful decisions for this State.

By mid-century, Ireland will need to have weaned itself off fossil fuels used to generate electricity: to heat our homes; and to drive our cars, buses, lorries and trains. There is a 98 per cent dependence on oil in transport, for example. In that context, Minister for Communications, Climate Change and the Environment Denis Naughten last week published the Draft National Mitigation Plan. Its purpose is essentially to set out how the State can achieve those lofty goals. It has been a long time coming – it is more than a decade since the last similar plan was published.

The 91-page document is comprehensive in setting out the current situation. For example, it accepts Ireland will come nowhere near the 2020 EU targets of 20 per cent emissions reductions and will struggle to meet the 2030 targets. However, the document is staggeringly non-committal in terms of any concrete plans or proposals to achieve the goals. There is a bewildering plethora of reviews, reports, consultations, scoping exercises, Mickey-Mouse pilot programmes, and cost benefit analyses. The common thread is inaction for the foreseeable future.

The expense of meeting the targets will involve painful adjustments in living standards and will stretch public acceptability to breaking point. To be fair, it would be churlish for any government to plump for some energy-saving solution that cost billions of euro and turned out to be a dud. The motor industry, for example, not governments, will come up with the most efficient solution to make electric vehicles available to the masses.

While the Government insists the plan is not a “wait and see” exercise, the evidence points to the contrary. In transport, the “free travel” and public obligation schemes (there for decades) are portrayed as the main “wins”. There are no details of cheaper gains like a modal shift to bicycles or walking (indeed the budget for new cycle routes has been slashed). Similarly, making homes more energy efficient is seen as a good thing but there is nothing tangible other than more studies and interminable pilot schemes.

Agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of all emissions but the report does not even go there, emphasising that nothing should compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. That’s all very well but the Government must stop clinging to the GLAS and Origin Green schemes as if these modest initiatives will somehow stop the waves.

Rather than an action plan, this is a recipe for inaction.

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