Varadkar commits to ringfencing carbon tax revenues for climate action

Leo Varadkar to announce move at UN General Assembly on Monday

In 2018 global carbon dioxide emissions grew 2 per cent, reaching a record high. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

In 2018 global carbon dioxide emissions grew 2 per cent, reaching a record high. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire


All new revenues raised by new or increased carbon taxes in Ireland will be ringfenced to pay for coping with climate action and helping the poor to deal with higher fuel costs, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will say on Monday.

The declaration by Mr Varadkar to the United Nations General Assembly in New York goes farther than any previous signals given by the Government about carbon taxes.

Up to now, it has committed only to ringfencing part of such revenues, though Mr Varadkar’s move now creates a hole in Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe’s numbers, ahead of the Budget on October 8th.

The UN General Assembly is being used by UN Secretary General António Guterres in an effort to prod countries into committing to more drastic actions to prevent irreversible climate change.

In 2018 global carbon dioxide emissions grew 2 per cent, reaching a record high of 37 billion tonnes of CO2. In 2018 global CO2 concentration was 407.8 parts per million (ppm), 2.2 ppm higher than 2017.

The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 parts per million CO2 was about three to five million years ago, when ice sheets melted and sea levels were up to 20m higher than today.

In his speech, Mr Varadkar will commit to extra measures on top of the existing national climate plan and fully align Ireland to more demanding decarbonisation targets sought by the EU.

More than 100 leaders applied to address the summit, but only 60 – including Ireland – were deemed to be ambitious enough by the UN Secretary General with “concrete, realistic plans” for the road ahead.

“Leadership is required to take action. And I believe leadership is also required to convince people that it is not too late to act. It’s not,” Mr Varadkar will tell the General Assembly.

“ We are inspired by children and young people who have embraced this cause and keep it at the top of the agenda,” he will say, adding that the Government has heard “the views of the people” in a National Citizens Assembly.

New legislation

“We know what we are going to do. Next year, we will underpin it through new climate action legislation,” he will say. A cross-party agreement exists to raise carbon taxes to €80 per tonne by 2030, from €20 today.

The poor will be helped with higher fuel costs, while others who lose their jobs because of climate change actions will be helped to find new work, he will pledge.

The new climate change fund will provide “billions to make change possible”, including the transformation of the State’s transport, electricity, buildings and agriculture.

Mr Guterres has made four specific requests of signatories to the Paris Agreement; “carbon neutrality plans for 2050, ways to tackle fossil fuel subsidies, taxing carbon and no new coal power beyond 2020”.

The summit will be notable, however, for the absence of leaders from major emitting countries including the US, Russia, Brazil and Japan, while the secretary general has tempered expectations by accepting some actions won’t lead to immediate emission reductions.

Security Council seat

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, who has been in New York since Friday, underlined the significance of the move to back the EU position including net-zero emissions by 2050, and the challenge to “make that tangible”.

Mr Varadkar arrived in New York on Sunday for a five-day visit to the US as Ireland steps up its bid to secure a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021. Several Government ministers including Tánaiste Simon Coveney are in New York for the week where they will be meeting representatives from dozens of countries as they try to shore up support ahead of next year’s vote. President Michael D Higgins will deliver Ireland’s address to the UN on Wednesday.

The Taoiseach is also due to meet British prime minister Boris Johnson. The British leader is due to hold a bilateral meeting with US president Donald Trump on Tuesday, and is scheduled to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Trump will not be attending today’s summit and will instead address a conference on religious freedom at the UN. He will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday.