Major Irish climate change plan could be delayed by Brexit

Plan to lead world in tackling carbon emissions may be ‘paused’ if UK crashes out of EU

Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton: his climate plan will be implemented if Britain has an orderly exit from the EU. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton: his climate plan will be implemented if Britain has an orderly exit from the EU. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

 

The Government may postpone the implementation of a major plan to tackle climate change in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Ministers this week discussed the prospect of pausing the initiative, which aims to make Ireland a world leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton received Cabinet approval last November to proceed with a scheme that will make every Government department and State agency adopt and implement specific actions and targets in their own areas.

Mr Bruton updated the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure on Thursday on its progress, with a final report expected by the end of March.

It was discussed at the meeting that, while work would continue on drafting the plan, it could be “paused” if there is a no-deal Brexit, according to sources. Its implementation would continue as envisaged if there is an orderly Brexit.

Those present included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

Ramifications

The vast majority of the Government’s time after March, it was argued by one source, would be taken up with dealing with the ramifications of the UK crashing out of the EU, if such a scenario arises.

However, it is not known how long a pause on Mr Bruton’s plan would last.

“It could be that it is one week of chaos or it might be that they [the UK] walk away and it could take some time,” the source said. It was also argued that an economic slowdown would mean Ireland’s emissions would also reduce due to decreased economic activity.

Another source said there were “concerns that a big move now on climate when the farmers are facing a potential Brexit apocalypse mightn’t be the wisest thing politically”.

The Irish Farmers’ Association has said 70,000 beef farmers would be put out of business if the UK imposed €1.7 billion in tariffs on Irish food imports, as the Government has forecast in a “crash-out” Brexit.

Mr Creed warned Cabinet this week that the beef industry faced an existential crisis as viability would be lost should the UK impose tariffs of up to 70 per cent on imports.

Double-whammy

The agricultural sector would face a double-whammy in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal at the end of March. This would be from massive import taxes on the 250,000 tonnes of beef to the UK, half of all Irish beef exports, and reduced prices from the beef displaced from the UK flooding EU markets.

The Government estimates that UK tariffs would cost the Irish food industry €1.7 billion, of which the beef industry – the agricultural sector most affected by a hard Brexit – would account for €700 million.

Mr Creed told EU agricultural commissioner Phil Hogan this week that the industry would require both emergency EU aid and European Commission approval to loosen state aid rules for a domestic bailout to “ride out” the impact of tariffs.

A spokesperson for Mr Bruton said: “The cabinet committee agreed to establish 11 high-level interdepartmental teams which will develop actions across Government to step up Ireland’s response to climate change in a range of key areas which require action across government.

“Very tight timelines were agreed for this work to be completed, so that Minister Bruton is still in a position to bring a plan to Cabinet for approval by the end of March this year.”