Environmental pact would dramatically change Irish life

Programme for government includes several much-cherished Green Party demands

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan before government-formation talks at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan before government-formation talks at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Legal powers will be used to back demanding carbon emission cuts under the programme for government agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

It is described as the most ambitious climate action plan ever proposed and matches measures agreed by European Union states to cut emissions by 50-55 per cent by 2030.

However, many of the major actions will not be fully delivered until the second half of the decade – a reality not without political risk for the Greens, given Ireland’s poor emissions record so far.

The programme for government states that emissions should be cut by an average of 7 per cent a year up to 2030, which would dramatically change the face of Irish life.

The Greens will point to a major reversal in road construction policy, with twice as much now to be spent on public transport as on roads, including €360 million on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

Rises in the carbon tax, reaching €100 a tonne of CO2 equivalent by 2030, will bring political pain, though revenues are to be ringfenced to spend on actions to deal with fuel poverty and to cut emissions further.

A five-yearly carbon budget will set binding limits for each sector of Irish life, including agriculture. The changes are spelled out in a new Climate Change Bill to be delivered within the first 100 days of office.

In a bid to keep rural Ireland onside, farmers will get expanded Rural Environment Protection Scheme grants to take care of the land, including incentives to cut fertiliser use, to plant native trees and rewild parts of their land.

Targets to cut methane, which warms the atmosphere more than CO2, are being set for the first time, though there is a stipulation that Irish agriculture cannot be commercially undermined.

Retrofitting programme

Construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, including the planned liquefied natural gas plant earmarked for Shannon estuary, will be halted – while further exploration of gas and importation of liquefied natural gas will be prohibited.

This is a much-cherished win for hardline greens, but more significant changes are in the offing for consumers, including a huge retrofitting programme of some 500,000 homes.

Cheaper electricity is promised with a national grid drawing heavily on renewables, including more offshore wind. Urban district heating schemes to use commercially produced heat are pledged, too.

Communities will be encouraged to pursue renewable energy projects of their own, and to get paid for feeding excess electricity into the grid through a micro-generation system.

The Green Party, which had sought actions to address a biodiversity crisis, has won a number of commitments that will reassure many within their ranks as they debate whether or not to back the deal.

“Nature-based solutions” such as rewetting bogs to sequester carbon and restore biodiversity, are strongly backed by the agreement, along with the expansion of Marine Protected Areas.

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