German NGO defends climate change rating of Ireland as worst in EU

Index compilers strongly reject Leo Varadkar’s criticisms of last-place rating

One of the compilers of an index of climate-change performance that rated Ireland as the worst in the EU has strongly rejected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's questioning of its standing.

Jan Burck of the Bonn-based environmental Germanwatch, one of the authors of Climate Change Performance Index 2019 published this week, said the index "is based on standardised scientific criteria. The data for 12 of our 14 indicators is drawn from official statistics."

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday when asked about Ireland’s poor rating, Mr Varadkar said a recent EPA report had revealed that Irish greenhouse gas emissions decreased last year. “The [index] report card ... was prepared by a German NGO, which is an advocacy and campaign organisation.”

Mr Varadkar added: “We need to make a distinction between report cards, claims and assertions made by campaign organisations as opposed to those made by official bodies such as the CSO, the UN or the EPA, between official statistics and those that are calculated by an NGO or an advocacy group that has a particular agenda.”


Annual index

Germanwatch and the NewClimate Institute, in co-operation with national experts, undertake the assessment annually and have published the index for the past 14 years. "Both organisations are fully independent and do not work for profit. All ratings and indicators are described in a detailed and transparent manner," Mr Burck said in a statement issued in Katowice.

"The criticism of prime minister Leo Varadkar falls short, as he only refers to one out of the 14 indicators. Emissions in Ireland are still increasing if one looks at a five-years trend, no matter if 2016 or 2017 is taken into account as the latest data reference," he said.

The underlying method of the index was standardised for all the assessed countries. “In addition, it is important to note that the index is a comparative measure evaluating a country’s performance in relation to the other countries included in the assessment.”

He confirmed 80 per cent of the assessment of countries’ performance was based on quantitative data on carbon emissions, renewable energy and energy use from internationally recognised and accepted data sources”.

Balanced picture

Twenty per cent of the assessment is based on the policy evaluation of national experts from NGOs and think-tanks. All together 14 indicators are taken into account to assess a country’s performance.

The Taoiseach had referred specifically to one indicator: emissions trend. “However, he only refers to a one-year trend from 2016 to 2017, mentioning the reduction of emissions by 0.9 per cent in 2017,” Mr Burck said.

The index takes into account a five-year trend, as a one-year trend can be easily misinterpreted through events such as a warm or cold winter or rapid developments of the economic growth rates, he said. “For the period from 2011 to 2016, we do not see a decline in the emissions but rather a growth of 7.5 per cent.”

The level of the per-capita emissions at 14.4 tons in Ireland was significantly above the EU average of 7.9 tons and the seventh-highest per-capita emissions of all assessed countries, he said.

“We always try to show a balanced picture of a country. Apart from pointing at shortcomings, the assessment for Ireland by national experts also acknowledged positive developments such as the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill.”

Ireland had also seen an increase of renewable energy in use of 48 per cent in the five-year period up to 2016.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times