Fossil fuel subsidies worth €2bn must be phased out - Environmental Pillar

Ending subsidies ‘could reduce economy-wide emissions by 20 per cent by 2030’

The group also called for a levy on aggregates used in the construction industry such as gravel and stone. Photograph: iStock

The group also called for a levy on aggregates used in the construction industry such as gravel and stone. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government must set out a plan in the forthcoming Budget for the removal of over €2 billion in fossil fuels subsidies a year; the vast majority of which are indirect supports to industry, according to the Environmental Pillar (EP).

The body, which represents all major environmental groups in the country, said the move is one of a number of critical measures needed to address Ireland’s worsening climate and biodiversity crises.

In a pre-Budget submission, it added: “We need to eliminate these subsidies as a matter of urgency. Doing so could bear sizeable climate benefits, as their removal could reduce economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2030 compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”

This damaging practice should be wound down completely over the next five years, it suggested – with the Budget setting out a timetable on how to do so.

The EP said overhauling the budgetary process was also overdue as there was an urgent need to integrate sustainable development into setting the national budget to improve the resilience of communities in dealing with the inevitable impacts of the crises.

“Our current framework for decision-making fails to include one of the most crucial elements of our planetary and collective health: our biodiversity. We are entirely dependent on our natural world for our physical and mental wellbeing, however our national budget continuously fails to reflect that reality,” it noted.

To assist a shift away from car use in urban areas, it called for a major expansion of the bike-to-work scheme to include electric and second-hand bikes.

Between 1990 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions from transport skyrocketed by 137 per cent, it pointed out.

“The sector accounts for roughly a fifth of our national emissions, and we need to take concrete steps in reducing its impact. For both our climate and our health, we need to shift away from car-reliant modes of transport and encourage people to opt for transport that is active and public,” it underlined.

The range of recommended actions must be underpinned by a just transition, which guarantees communities who are most impacted by the transition to a sustainable economy “are centred and invested in every step of the way”, it added. This should be complemented by a plan for basic income within the lifetime of this Government, the EP urged.

Sustainable housing

It also called for a levy on aggregates used in the construction industry such as gravel and stone, to “help discourage the use of virgin resources, encourage recycling of aggregates and boost reuse of existing buildings”.

The construction industry needed to pivot, it said, to using material that is sustainable and appropriate when building much-needed homes to ensure people have high quality housing that also has the most minimal impact on our climate.

It also called for a substantial increase in funding for the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to address biodiversity loss.

Following the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the NPWS saw its current spending more than halved up until last year. The EP said the service is still down 38 per cent compared to 2008 funding, while the Budget must set out a plan “for future increases in line with our legal responsibility to protect nature”.

EP spokeswoman Caroline Whyte of Feasta said: “Two years ago, the Government declared a joint climate and biodiversity emergency, making Ireland one of the first countries to do so. While recently introduced legislation is certainly a welcome first step to address the scale of these crises, we are still waiting for the Government to back what they have continuously referred to as the biggest challenge of our time with their wallet.”

Pledges and commitments were all well but were mere words unless action and significant investment followed suit, she said. “The measures we have recommended are ones that have the potential to reduce emissions, protect our depleted biodiversity, better our quality of life and create jobs all at the same time.”