Citizens’ Assembly votes for radical moves to tackle climate change

Tax on agricultural emissions and more spending on public transport urged

Members of the Dublin Youth Dance Company perform a Dance for Climate Action to highlight the proceedings of the Citizens’ Assembly at Malahide. Photograph: Tom Honan.

Members of the Dublin Youth Dance Company perform a Dance for Climate Action to highlight the proceedings of the Citizens’ Assembly at Malahide. Photograph: Tom Honan.

 

Citizens’ Assembly members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture despite the opposition of the Irish Farmers ’Association (IFA).

The IFA warned that such a tax would be “impractical” and it criticised the evidence given by Prof Alan Matthews to the assembly that it was no longer right that agriculture should be exempted from such a tax.

Nevertheless, 89 per cent of the 75 members who were present for the ballot voted yes to the proposition that there should be such a tax on agriculture.

The members of the assembly voted following two weekends of deliberations on how Ireland could be a leader in climate change.

All 13 measures put forward by the assembly secretariat received the overwhelming support of the members.

A total of 98 per cent of the members voted yes to the proposition that climate change should be at the centre of policymaking in Ireland.

The proposition included a measure that “as a matter of urgency” an independent body should be resourced appropriately to address climate change.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten said the results of the assembly demonstrated that “as a nation we are engaged and ready to move on from the model we inherited from the Industrial Revolution.

“The discussions at the Citizens’ Assembly and the 1,200 submissions from the public on the topic will make a pivotal contribution to the societal transformation that is required,” he added.

Public transport

Members voted by a margin of 68 in support of the proposition that the State should spend at least twice as much on the funding of public transport as they do on the road infrastructure.

Four out of five assembly members present voted yes to the proposition that they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon-intensive activities.

There was also substantial support for an increase in the numbers of bus lanes, cycle lanes and park-and-ride facilities, an end to subsidies for peat and unanimous support that communities should be given a share in local renewable-energy projects.

On Sunday, Prof John FitzGerald, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, said Ireland was going to miss its 2020 emissions targets by a greater margin than expected.

He said Ireland had started to miss its emissions targets when the economy recovered in 2013. “By 2014 it was clear that we were definitely not going to meet our targets, but nothing was done,” he told the assembly.

Ireland committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by 20 per cent from the 2005 baseline, a European Union target.

Prof FitzGerald told assembly members that Ireland’s emissions were set to rise instead of fall between now and 2020. This would lead to fines from the EU.

As a consequence Ireland was also a “very long way from our target” of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, he said.

He criticised the recently published National Mitigation Plan as lacking commitment to concrete new policies and measures that would reduce emissions.

“We are a laggard, not a leader,” he added.

Prof FitzGerald said successive governments could have taken measures in the past decade to mitigate Ireland’s carbon emissions.

On Saturday, Prof Matthews, from Trinity College Dublin, said the “costs caused by the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural production are not taken into account by farmers when deciding how much to produce, and this is wrong”.

He suggested Irish farmers could reduce beef production considerably and not be materially worse off because they do not make money from rearing beef cattle.

Instead, he maintained, their income comes from Common Agricultural Policy payments which would be available anyway if they switched to a less intense form of agriculture.