Immense damage is being done to Ireland's international reputation, "especially among developing countries and the more progressive European countries following its identification as a climate laggard", according to climatologist Prof John Sweeney.
Commenting on the outcome of UN climate talks in Bonn, he said Ireland had become the worst performing country in Europe on the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), "largely because of its impending failure to meet its international obligations and the lack of compatibility of its efforts with the Paris [agreement on climate change] targets".
“Increasingly Irish people are being asked by developing countries, some of which have been ravaged by cyclone damage in recent months, why is Ireland not pulling its weight in tackling its emissions responsibilities?” said Prof Sweeney, a member of An Taisce’s climate change committee.
He was one of 10 representatives of Irish NGOs, including development agencies, environmental organisations and representatives of civil society, who attended the COP23 conference which concluded at the weekend.
Prof Sweeney said a Climate Action Network Europe briefing at COP23 “was both revealing and depressing” in the Irish context. “Ireland has been far from a leader in climate negotiations within Europe over the past few years, especially with reference to its 2030 targets. Instead, it has been looking for every concession possible to enable it to continue increasing its greenhouse gas emissions, projected by the EPA to occur until at least the middle of the next decade,” he added.
While the NGOs had a meeting with Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten during COP23 where a positive atmosphere prevailed, "the vision to take radical action in areas such as ceasing issuing oil exploration licences, tackling agricultural emissions or adopting a leadership position in the ongoing EU discussions on 2030 targets was less than hoped for", he said.
The most important issue at the conference for Trócaire development agency was the call from vulnerable countries for increased action to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions before 2020, its policy director Cliona Sharkey said. "Climate change is hitting hardest those who have done least to cause it. The impacts are already too much for the communities that Trocaire is working with."
Delivering on the Paris agreement “is our best chance of avoiding catastrophic impacts across the globe, and ensuring global poverty eradication remains possible. It is vital that the global political momentum for delivery of the agreement continue.”
Scientists at COP23 had highlighted clearly "the need for a significant increase in action at all levels now, not in another five years time, if we are to deliver on the Paris Agreement", she said. "It is deeply disappointing that while many political leaders in Bonn recognised the need for increased action and ambition, and indeed there were a number of concrete new commitments to this end, the Irish Government was not among them."
A continued failure to take climate action “seriously undermined delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and important work being done to respond to the impacts of increasing drought, floods and storms on the poorest communities in the world”, added Ms Sharkey.
The message from Bonn was that more and more countries were ramping up their actions to cut climate pollution, said Friends of the Earth Ireland director Oisín Coghlan, “but that if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement every month counts”.
"Unfortunately, Denis Naughten's message to the world was as a small country 'Ireland can't do everything'. Nobody is asking Ireland to do everything, we're only asking that we do our fair share. As Mary Robinson put it, we must do everything we can and do it now," he said.
There were so many things the Government could be doing to cut pollution and improve our quality of life; in transport, in helping to make our homes warmer, in energy. “The dithering and delay must end,” added Mr Coghlan.
Jerry MacEvilly, policy co-ordinator for the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, said Mr Naughten’s speech to leaders at the Bonn talks “was clear on the collective challenge but exceptionally weak on real climate action at home”.
He added: “While the Minister’s strong support for greater co-ordination at UN level is to be welcomed, it is extremely disappointing to again hear the tired line of Ireland lacking ‘capacity or resources’ , instead of focusing on what the Government has actually committed to do.”
Dr Cara Augustenborg of Friends of the Earth Ireland said none of Mr Naughten's examples on climate action – efforts to genotype the beef herd, reduce household food waste, increase broadband coverage across the country, and test ocean energy prototypes – would result in direct and immediate emissions reductions.
“It’s no wonder Ireland was ranked worst in Europe in the 2018 CCPI if our own minister for climate action doesn’t even seem to understand that doing our fair share to prevent climate change requires far more than mere tokenism.”