Ireland plays ‘diplomatic blinder’ in escaping climate change action

Ireland rewarded for carbon emissions growing in line with economy, An Taisce says

The provisional EU deal agreed late last month includes “flexibilities” on targets for reducing carbon emissions up to 2030. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

The provisional EU deal agreed late last month includes “flexibilities” on targets for reducing carbon emissions up to 2030. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

Ireland has played a diplomatic blinder in securing a European Union deal that will delay climate action “on behalf of business-as-usual vested interests” including farmers, the environmental group An Taisce has said.

The Irish Farmers’ Association welcomed the breakthrough, saying it was a pragmatic and more balanced outcome though it would still pose challenges for Ireland.

However, An Taisce spokesman Charles Stanley-Smith said most EU member states were stepping up their climate action commitments, while Ireland was being rewarded for allowing carbon emissions rise in line with a growing economy.

“Most of Europe is taking its commitment to making emission reductions seriously, but Ireland has been rewarded for doing nothing at all toward any effective climate mitigation policy and not achieving any planning to cut whole-economy emissions,” he said.

Flexibilities

The provisional EU deal agreed late last month includes “flexibilities” on targets for reducing carbon emissions up to 2030. Ireland secured “more attainable greenhouse gas obligations” arising from recognition of carbon stored in soils and forests. These are included in new arrangements on farming and land use.

Ireland’s open economy “continually rides the economic wave up to higher emissions with the added rubber-stamped push for increasing agricultural emissions under Food Wise 2025”, Mr Stanley-Smith claimed. “The only effective Irish climate ‘policy’ appears to be economic recession. That’s a bad plan.”

The deal is on the “effort-sharing regulation” to ensure further emission reductions in sectors falling outside the scope of the EU emissions trading system for the period 2021-2030, and is expected to be ratified later this month.

“Ireland has been rewarded for taking the moral hazard of relying on other EU nations to achieve their reductions and for betting on no ongoing post-2020 enforcement of the 2020 targets,” the An Taisce spokesman said.

A new starting point voided 2020 targets and rewarded Ireland’s currently fast-rising emissions while incentivising Ireland to increase emissions in the immediate future, Mr Stanley-Smith alleged.

Appearance of compliance

“New, large and poorly justified ‘flexibilities’ – including ‘offsets’ from forestry carbon uptake when soils and wetlands emit even more carbon than the forestry sequesters – will enable the appearance of compliance until very late towards 2030, at which point Ireland can again claim, as it has done repeatedly this time, that it was ‘all too difficult’,” he said.

Rewarding “moral hazard takers” in this way was a recipe for certain future failure, he said. “If even the EU cannot enforce international mitigation rules then that bodes very ill for the weakness of international carbon governance in general.”

Climatologist Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University said the outcome was not unexpected given the European Commission’s previously stated position but the timing of the deal was a surprise. It suggested a “compromise of Christmas”.

While Ireland had secured concessions, notably in agriculture, things were likely to change up to 2020 when there would be a tightening of emissions targets, Prof Sweeney said. Irish farmers nonetheless had “negotiated away” 9.6 per cent of a target for reducing emissions up to 2030, and it would facilitate increased emissions from agriculture over the next three years. Some big EU member states were not keen on the deal for that reason, he added.