People’s lives must change if we are to achieve climate goals, says Minister

Richard Bruton insists Government’s plan will ensure 2030 commitments will be met

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton: ‘The reality is living will be different if we want to achieve what we are setting out.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton: ‘The reality is living will be different if we want to achieve what we are setting out.’ Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

Tackling climate change will involve changing the habits of a lifetime, Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton has haid.

Changing how householders heat and manage their homes will require investing in smart technology and renewable energy “rather than maybe the fancy kitchen that is the first instinct one has with a few bob to spend”.

Speaking at the Environment Ireland conference in Croke Park on Wednesday, Mr Bruton said individuals, communities, businesses and State entities had to recognise the scale of challenges and move beyond ambition.

There was a need to accept “infrastructures that we have resisted and shunned in the past” – such as wind turbines, solar panels and higher density housing, while ensuring those most disadvantaged are not “caught in the backwash as the rest of society moves on”.

“Many of us still aspire to the garden, front and back, with the car in the driveway. The reality is living will be different if we want to achieve what we are setting out,” he said.

Financial institutions would have to enable the transition by going beyond giving a preferential mortgage for a new house with a good energy rating, and take a longer view on risk in helping communities meet the challenges so people were not left with stranded assets.

The scale of the task, he said, was indicated by key targets over the next decade: to increase renewable energy in communities fivefold; to scale up electric vehicles by a factor of 25, to plant 250 million trees, to increase by 10-times the volume of retrofitted homes and to move to net-zero non-recyclable plastics when two-thirds of plastics today are unrecyclable.

He said the Government’s Climate Action Plan would ensure 2030 climate commitments would be met. “It will mean warmer homes, cleaner air and healthier lives. It will put our economy on a more sustainable path for future generations.”

Ireland, however, continues to “live beyond its carbon and environmental means”, according to EPA director general Laura Burke. This is in spite of a climate emergency that was well flagged by evidence from scientists worldwide including the EPA.

She questioned why it took so long to acknowledge what was facing the country. “It has not arrived suddenly or without warning. The build-up of pollutants in our atmosphere and waters, the gradual loss of biodiversity, the contamination of land – these are insidious, incremental challenges to our environment and health that have been borne out by scientific evidence . . . for many years. What we now need is urgent transformational change based on what the evidence is telling us.”

There had been a welcome, marked escalation in social awareness and policy response to climate disruption. “There is now more focus and more resources are being applied to addressing climate change in particular, but why has it taken so long?”

She added: “Why does it take a 16-year-old girl striking and protesting to make us now declare climate change as an ‘emergency’? Greta Thunberg has managed to tap into, and harness, the concerns and demands of young people (and older people) across the globe and to finally overpower the voices of vested interests and political and social indifference. She asks that we stop hiding behind nice words but little action and to call it as it is. And she has called it simply and correctly.”

‘Eco-anxiety’

Ms Burke warned the challenges remain substantial and could be considered overwhelming. She noted an enduring risk of eco-fatigue, “and more worrying, a growing eco-anxiety in our youth”. She challenged those in attendance to find ways to match the uncomfortable evidence with optimism for the future and to infuse this with creative solutions.

“All of us have a responsibility to not alone bring forward the uncomfortable evidence, but to also build optimism through the identification of solutions, the celebration of successes, the embracing of necessary change, and delivering on commitments.”

The EPA recognised the significant responsibility for producing robust evidence, she said. “In a period of so called fake news, self-interested agendas and sound-bite driven media, the risk of environmental harm arising from inaction or ill-considered knee-jerk or rushed policy responses or decisions, is significant. And such harms can have long-lasting effects.”