Ireland should introduce water charges, raise carbon taxes and waste charges - OECD

Review of State’s environmental record warns of post-pandemic rise in emissions

Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said the OECD’s views would influence the Government’s national development and climate action and post-Covid recovery plans. Photograph: Julien Behal

Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said the OECD’s views would influence the Government’s national development and climate action and post-Covid recovery plans. Photograph: Julien Behal

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The State should increase carbon taxes, introduce water charges and impose higher waste charges, according to a 10-yearly review of Ireland’s environmental record by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Calling for bolder actions, the OECD warned that the State’s carbon emissions, waste generation and agriculture-caused pollution all rose with strong economic growth prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and will do so again.

Despite international pledges made by the State to cut CO2 emissions by 51 per cent by 2030, Ireland will fail to meet its obligations unless the link between growth and emissions is cut, says the Paris-based body.

Besides higher carbon taxes, home water charges and waste levies, motoring taxes should shift away from charges on fuel to road charges to cut down on travel and encourage use of public transport.

The Government must swiftly implement actions “to alleviate the growing pressures from intensification of agricultural practices, demographic development, urban sprawl and road traffic”, it went on.

Many of the measures will be difficult for the Government to implement , given the water charges battle nearly a decade ago, and recent Dáil anger about the impact changes will have on rural Ireland.

Climate action

Welcoming the report, however, Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said the OECD’s views would influence the Government’s national development and climate action and post-Covid recovery plans.

“There is no avoiding the fact that our environment has deteriorated dramatically in recent decades, particularly in our water quality... but also in our use of fossil fuels,” he said, adding: “That all needs to change.”

Reflecting the opposition to come, however, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the “push” to bring back water charges “should be completely rejected”.

The Government should remember the opposition previously displayed, he went on, adding: “Any attempt to reintroduce them now would be met with a similar mass movement.”

Decarbonisation of the State’s transport and agriculture is urgently needed, the OECD recommends, since they are the two largest sources of carbon emissions.

Diesel prices should “at least” match those for petrol taxes, while congestion charges should be introduced in Dublin, along with levies on those who enjoy parking at work.

The reports backs the Green Party’s ambition to spend twice as much on public transport as roads, saying that a fifth of the transport capital budget should go on cycling and pedestrians. Employers could be able to make tax-free payments to those who walk or cycle to work, too.

Sanitation

Urging the Government to “reconsider” the introduction of household water charges”, the OECD said such revenues are need to accelerate investment in water supply and sanitation.

Only 60 per cent of the Irish population is connected to advanced wastewater treatment – the third-lowest level among OECD countries, the 10-yearly review found.

Investment in water infrastructure has increased considerably, it accepts, “but Ireland still suffers from high water losses, hot spots of low drinking water quality and inadequate wastewater treatment.”

Meanwhile, progress on waste recycling has stagnated, and a levy should be put on the incineration, or export of reusable and recyclable waste, while the current landfill levy should rise.

Targets to cut methane on farms – a move which has been strongly resisted up to now by farming bodies – should be set, it argues, while fossil fuel and other environmentally harmful subsidies should be reduced, or ended.

Carbon taxes will rise in the Budget, said the Minister, but the revenues will be used to protect the poor, help farmers and encourage the retrofitting of thousands of homes.