State no longer on climate ‘solo run’ after US emissions pledge

Biden commitment weighty, coming in wake of EU promise on warming, say Irish activists

A Rome mural of ET on the occasion of the Earth Day. Photograph: EPA

A Rome mural of ET on the occasion of the Earth Day. Photograph: EPA

 

US president Joe Biden’s commitment to halve that country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 has boosted Earth Day, ensuring Irish climate policy can no longer be considered an outrider, according to top Irish environmentalists and academics.

Prof Diarmuid Torney, a climate policy expert at Dublin City University, said the announcement by the United States this week showed how society and business are now using Earth Day to showcase their endeavours.

“On one hand you can say that is window dressing. On the other hand, announcements by the US and by companies provide an opportunity to hold them to account,” he said.

Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said return of the US to the climate action fold was a “shot in the arm” for that movement.

“The US commitment is significant, coming on the back of the EU also committing to reduce emissions. This is a real and substantial downpayment,” he said.

For Mr Coghlan that move means Irish policy is no longer an outlier.

“What Ireland is committing to do is in line with the EU and the US. We are no longer on a mad solo run.”

However, he added it would be difficult for each sector to deliver its fair share. “We have seen that already in the opening position of the Department of Agriculture. It is giving a 10 per cent cut and in the context of an overall 50 per cent cut that is not adequate. If agriculture cuts by 10 per cent the other sectors will have to cut by 73 per cent,” he said.

Prof Torney said the new Climate Bill is a huge improvement on the 2015 one as different sectors can no longer “pass the buck”.

“Transport is going to be really challenging. Agriculture is obviously challenging. It’s not compatible with continued expansion of the beef and dairy sectors.”

Irish politicians react

For those who represent those sectors, it’s going be very difficult. Wexford Independent TD Verona Murphy has a background in road haulage and noted the EU policy on a move to rail freight.

“Is it going to be possible to put rail freight on a small island of 700km when you have a road infrastructure that is almost 100 per cent connected? Our busiest port in the country now is Rosslare. It has no facility to take rail freight.”

She also said technology to replace fossil fuels in large freight trucks was at least a decade away.

Tipperary Fianna Fáil TD and former president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association Jackie Cahill said agriculture could meet many of its obligations by embracing new technology, in feed, silage, slurry spreading and fertilisers.

Asked about cutting the national herd, which many believe is necessary in order to agriculture to meet its commitments, he replied: “I would not accept that. We are very sustainable producers of cattle. If we cut it here we have to import it from someone else which is less sustainable.”