Fine Gael accused of attempting to dilute key climate action target

FF spokesman on climate action says party would support raising carbon taxes incrementally

Rowan Kelly from Bray with other members of Climate Strike Fridays for Future, spending the 13th consecutive Friday protesting about Climate Change outside the Dáil. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Rowan Kelly from Bray with other members of Climate Strike Fridays for Future, spending the 13th consecutive Friday protesting about Climate Change outside the Dáil. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Fine Gael has been accused of attempting to dilute a key climate action target to decarbonise the Irish economy by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Action is due to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday this week to sign off on its report, which is due to be published on Thursday and to feed into Government policy on climate.

The committee has already agreed significant measures on decarbonising agriculture, retrofitting energy-inefficient buildings and on generating 70 per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources in the next decade. A position on increasing carbon taxes, however, has yet to be agreed.

In a series of amendments circulated in recent days Fine Gael members have proposed abandoning a “target of net zero economy wide emissions [of CO2] by 2050” and replacing it with “a provision for an ambitious 2050 target following receipt of advice from the Climate Action Council” – a new body proposed to oversee implementation of measures on tackling carbon emissions.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he would be surprised if Fine Gael persisted with the amendment as worded because it would be contrary to best available scientific advice from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This would mean a previously agreed target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in the economy by mid-century adopted by the Government would stay in place, a move that would let a lot of sectors off the hook, Mr Ryan said.

In addition, the Government “would be shooting themselves in the foot” by adopting a position at variance with its support for recent climate school strikes by Irish students.

Research

Mr Ryan said the committee was set to back increasing carbon taxes up to 2030 in principle while supporting research on the impact of possible approaches to be completed by July.

This would allow for an increase in carbon tax in the 2020 budget. At present, there is no agreement on the tax model. Solidarity-People Before Profit (PBP) and Sinn Féin are opposed to increasing the tax.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan: he said the Government “would be shooting themselves in the foot” by adopting a position at variance with its support for recent climate school strikes by Irish students
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan: said the Government “would be shooting themselves in the foot” by adopting a position at variance with its support for recent climate school strikes by Irish students

Fianna Fáil spokesman on climate action Timmy Dooley said his party would support increasing carbon taxes incrementally as it was the right thing to do and would send a clear signal to the marketplace. It was not favouring the “fee and dividend” approach of returning revenue raised to households as it was “a gimmick”, but favoured ring-fencing monies for actions such as retrofitting buildings.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue told the Today with Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ Radio if he could “maintain and get a consensus in the Oireachtas regarding the long-term direction of carbon taxation, I will make a change in that in the budget”.

Such a big policy change would “need some consensus on why we are doing it”, he added, given what had happened with water charges.

He said there was a need for clarity and honesty. He favoured increasing the tax and returning the revenue to homes and businesses.

Solidarity-PBP said Fine Gael’s hypocrisy on climate policy was evident from its stalling of the Climate Emergency Bill, a private members’ Bill which passed first stage in Dáil last year. It would limit the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel lobby

The opposition party is to table a motion on Tuesday calling for the Dáil to support the passage of the Bill by referring it to the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

Speaking at a press conference, TD Bríd Smith said Fine Gael “seem hell bent on appeasing the fossil fuel lobby”.

“It is widely known that we have to keep at least 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground to have any chance of fighting runaway climate change,” she added.

Cian Parry, a student who took part in the school climate protests, said: “In the Dáil Leo Varadkar claimed he supported the student strikes and found them inspiring. One of the students’ demands is to cut fossil fuel usage by 2030 in line with IPCC recommendations. If the Taoiseach genuinely found the strike inspiring and wanted to take meaningful action on climate change it makes little sense to me as to why his Government are not supporting this Bill.”