Any party entering government formation talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should insist the State pursue actions to contain climate breakdown – and their bottom line should be cutting carbon emissions by 8 per cent a year, according to Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth.
“We know from the UN we need to reduce our emissions by at least 8 per cent a year [up to 2030] and current plans fall far short of that,” he said.
He accused Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of promising vaguely to do more on emissions but not promising enough to prevent climate breakdown. “They have given us no figures. And they are not promising to pass the new climate law that all parties have already agreed to. It’s as if they are leaving all that for the smaller parties to propose in negotiations.”
Any of the smaller parties entering into talks with the larger parties must demand the State does its fair share to fulfil the Paris Agreement and that it enact a long-promised new climate law within the first 100 days of the Dáil being back up and running, Mr Coghlan said.
The Green Party has flagged it is seeking for the next decade a yearly emissions cut of 7 per cent – which is close to the figure that leading climate scientists indicate is required to avoid irreversible climate impacts from 2030 on.
The Government’s current climate action plan would reduce emissions by 35 per cent by 2030 (seeing emissions fall by 3.5 per cent a year on average) and sets out for the first time how the State can meet legally binding EU 2030 targets on emissions.
Other analysis has wrongly claimed the plan will only reduce emissions by 2 per cent a year – as such examinations do not include actions in the plan to reduce emissions from electricity, large industry or land use. Many of the most effective measures for reducing emissions require changes in technology or in assets which cannot happen in a single year.
A 35 per cent reduction means delivering on 1 million electric vehicles; 500,000 home upgrades; 70 per cent renewable electricity; an €80-per-tonne carbon tax; greater agricultural efficiencies, and the implementation of more than 180 actions in the plan.
It would mean cleaner air, warmer homes and a more sustainable economy; the only difficulty is the European Green Deal, which the Government has endorsed, will see the EU raise its ambition to a 50-55 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050. This will require further development of the climate action plan and inclusion of new ambition and new actions. The plan already commits to annual updates.
The Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) coalition said it was concerned major parties were still not uniting behind the science and proposing more specific annual emissions cuts and sectoral-specific plans.
“To be in line with the science and our climate obligations, the [next] programme for government must deliver emissions reductions that average at least 8 per cent a year over its lifetime,” said SCC policy adviser Sadhbh O’Neill.
In addition, setting a new 2030 target in this regard needs to be operationalised with five-year carbon budgets to put the State on track to meeting its EU and Paris Agreement obligations and to avoid mounting costs of non-compliance, she added.
The State's most senior scientist with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Prof Peter Thorne, of Maynooth University, said he had expected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's framework document for a potential coalition to be deliberately vague for political purposes. "Who knows where we're going to land after Covid-19?" he said.
That said, a strengthened climate Act backed by new governance structures, including a new standing committee with teeth and oversight by the Department of the Taoiseach, would ensure the State was on the right course and could quickly correct mistakes. "As long as they do that, climate cannot fall off the table," he added.
Covid-19 was a threat but also an opportunity to re-evaluate, he added. It had shown “we are not above nature” and human activity had taken its toll on the environment. “It’s an opportunity to stop and think. Do we actually want this? Do we really want to go back to where we were?”
Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland welcomed commitment in the framework document to take immediate action to protect ecosystems on land and at sea, and to proceed with a Citizens' Assembly on countering biodiversity loss.
“The programme for government that may follow from this framework represents a real and timely opportunity to fully integrate biodiversity and climate goals into policies on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, housing, health, transport and energy so that we can more fully reap societal benefits from these sectors,” she said.