Climate activists stopped traffic in Dublin city on Monday to protest rising air pollution levels in the capital.
The protest comes following an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that warned air pollution in certain parts of the capital was exceeding EU limits and posing risks to public health.
It found that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels were worst along the quays, at the entrance to and exit from the Dublin Tunnel, along the M50, and in the vicinity of Heuston Station. Pearse Street had the highest level of NO2 pollution, the EPA said.
Traffic is the main source of nitrogen oxide emissions in Ireland, along with electricity-generating stations and industry.
Extinction Rebellion Ireland, a climate action campaign group, staged eight-minute traffic disruptions, called swarming, at Tara Street, along the quays at O’Connell Street, on Parnell Street and at Capel Street Bridge on Monday. They also staged a “die-in” in the Natural History Museum, known as the Dead Zoo.
The group called on the Government to implement all of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and to introduce congestion charges or a complete ban traffic in Irish cities.
Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, also wants public transport, cycling and tree preservation to be prioritised over private vehicles.
Robin Cafolla, a self-employed programmer from Dublin 7, and one of the protesters, said there needs to be immediate action on the issue, as opposed to "putting it on the long finger".
“I feel like there is nothing more important than this [climate change] at the minute,” Mr Cafolla said. “Up until a certain point, climate change was something that we should care and be concerned about but it was something distant, something that would happen in the future.”
He said after reading articles about coral dying off, it hit him that “this is it”. “We are experiencing climate change now,” he said.
Graham Egan, an accountant based in Dublin city centre, said the current “lack of climate action” is upsetting.
“I am angry and sad. There’s a lot going on that doesn’t seem right. It’s essentially a mass genocide,” Mr Egan said. “I think direct action is the only way you can fight entrenched bias.”
Mr Egan said while the Irish branch of the campaign does not yet advocate for action that could result in being arrested, it is something they are working towards.
“We are young here. We don’t yet have the structures in place to feel comfortable to push people into a situation where they are going to get arrested,” he said. “If we don’t have a complete legal system in place around that, where we can support them afterwards, then it’s not fair. We are building steam towards that so that when we have a structure in place to protect members, we can blockade whole areas of Dublin.”
Emma Horan, a student from Mayo, said she is feeling panicked at the fast pace of climate change, and described the climate action plan as “completely insufficient”.
“It’s just not adequate at all. It’s really complacent and more needs to be done and that’s why I’m part of this movement,” she added.
Claire Lyons, who runs planting workshops around the capital, said better public transport infrastructure is what is needed to tackle this rising trend.
“The lack of action on cycleways is shocking. We’re just building more and more roads and no rail infrastructure,” she said. “Then with BusConnects, instead of taking away road space, they are taking away trees. We’re going to be gridlocked into the city if we don’t move towards public transport.”
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment said the climate action plan will tackle air pollution in urban areas through low-emission zones, and by allowing local authorities to restrict access to certain parts of cities and towns to zero-emission vehicles only.
“We are also committed to reaching 180,000 electric and hybrid vehicles on our roads by 2025 and nearly 1 million by 2030. Reaching 70 per cent renewable electricity and electrifying our private and public transport fleets will have a huge impact on air quality in our towns and cities,” a spokesman said.
Separately, a survey by the Asthma Society of Ireland has found that more than 81 per cent of people believe Dublin's air pollution has become a problem.
The survey also found 93 per cent said they were aware that air pollution is a trigger for asthma and other respiratory diseases. And 38 per cent were surprised by the high level of pollution at Pearse Street.
While Ireland is largely within the EU limits for air pollution, it fares poorly when measured against the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for emissions, the charity said.
The charity’s chief executive, Sarah O’Connor, said avoiding triggers is a key part of managing asthma, but rising air pollution is making this more difficult.
“Pollution from motor vehicles, industrial plants, domestic solid fuels and other sources is bad for everyone’s health, but it has a particularly negative impact on people with asthma, as air pollution is absorbed into the sinus, the airways and the lungs, triggering asthma symptoms,” she said.
The charity has launched a new air quality campaign in a bid to raise awareness of the problem.
“Our #OwnOurAir campaign aims to make the air for people less polluted by achieving key legislative and environmental policy changes and by building engagement and behaviour change among members of the public in respect to air pollution,” Ms O’Connor said.
The campaign has proposed a range of solutions to rising air pollution levels, including making public transport free for all users, extending the smoky fuel ban nationwide and creating better information around how air quality is an issue.