Gormley hails 'substantial' measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions


CLIMATE CHANGE:GREEN PARTY leader John Gormley has insisted the Budget has a substantial climate change agenda amid claims that it lacks any real measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yesterday's Budget contained new environmental tax measures including a levy of €200 for employee car parking spaces in major urban areas and a tax incentive to promote cycling to work.

The latter measure was greeted by loud guffaws by the Opposition when it was announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

Mr Lenihan said a carbon levy would not be introduced during 2009. He would, however, make "a firm announcement on the issue in my 2010 speech".

"The [Commission on Taxation] report will assist the Government in assessing how such a levy might best be structured and implemented in a fair and consistent manner in the budget next year," he said. "We must ensure Ireland's economic prospects are protected and enhanced and that the most vulnerable do not lose out."

Opposition and environmental groups said that it amounted to a further delay in coming to grips with Ireland's greenhouse emissions, which are currently seven million tonnes above the 63 million tonnes of CO2 target set under the Kyoto protocol for 2013.

But Mr Gormley countered by saying the Budget had resulted in further progress in tackling climate change. "For the first time ever in a Budget, we now have a commitment to a carbon levy. That is very significant," he added.

Mr Gormley also maintained that the strategy was effective in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, though admitted that reducing them by 3 per cent each year would be "very difficult".

He said further measures would be announced in today's Carbon Budget. "Let's see if the emissions are going up or down," he challenged the Opposition.

Mr Gormley also pointed to what he called "Green Party gains" including: a substantially increased budget for water services; new funding for home energy efficiency and warmer homes scheme; increases in petrol prices; the bicycle initiative; and an increase in motor taxes.

He also said that the new charge for parking spaces, while modest, had established the principle. He said all the major public transport infrastructure projects - including Metro North - had been protected.

Fine Gael's environment spokesman Phil Hogan said the carbon levy was again being long-fingered. "It seems that Green Party leader John Gormley has failed to get permission from Fianna Fáil to introduce a range of measures," he said.

Labour's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said that the meat in the sandwich for the Green Party should have been public transport and the metro to the airport, but "they have been sidelined".

A carbon levy, she said "has been promised over and over again . . . I would have welcomed more initiatives . . . to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

Friends of the Earth described the Budget as "inadequate in its response to the climate crisis". Its director Oisín Coghlan said: "There are some piecemeal measures in the Budget that may, almost incidentally, reduce our carbon emissions. What's clearly missing is a coherent strategy for Ireland to play its part in preventing the climate crisis from becoming a climate crash . . . If the Minister's speech was as weak on the financial crisis as it was on the climate crisis he would have been laughed out of the chamber."