‘Policy failure’ blamed for high greenhouse emissions

Economist Prof John FitzGerald says both Irish Government and EU are responsible

Prof FitzGerald said: “It is an issue that is massive for the world and we must play our part.”

Prof FitzGerald said: “It is an issue that is massive for the world and we must play our part.”

 

Ireland is very unlikely to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions limits and unless the Government pursues a new approach we will miss even tougher limits set for 2030 and 2050.

“It is a policy failure, ” said economist Prof John FitzGerald, on Thursday at the launch of the first report of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

“It is also a failure at EU level. It is a joint policy failure,” said Prof FitzGerald, who chairs the council.

Ireland is a signatory to a number of international agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions including the recent Paris Agreement that came into force on November 4th.

The policy approach taken by Government seems unlikely to deliver the 2020 targets and this puts us on a trajectory that will carry this failure forward to 2050.

The goal is to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, which means balancing carbon discharges against carbon sinks.

“It is an issue that is massive for the world and we must play our part,” Prof FitzGerald said.

“There needs to be a significant upping of our game. It is very late to make the dramatic changes necessary to meet the 2020 deadline.”

He said one way to encourage people and companies to adopt a more environmental approach is through use of the taxation system.

“If you use the tax system you can have an impact,” he said.

This might mean increasing road tax or vehicle registration tax or increasing taxes on smokey fuels.

Offset costs

Costs in this case could be offset however by gains in other areas, for example the expected reduction in health costs by reducing levels of air pollution.

“If you improve the heating and insulation in a home you also have health benefits,” he said. “And if you insulate you know it will save a lot of money.”

The best policy approaches had this “win win” aspect to them, he said.

The council is an independent statutory body formed under the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act.

Its role is to assess government policy on climate change and advise on ways to make improvements. It does not, however set policy, as this remains the responsibility of government.

The report notes that the high levels of carbon dioxide naturally in the atmosphere along with carbon discharged by human activities will remain in place for thousands of years, along with the consequences of this carbon including climate change and rising temperatures.

Any policy introduced by government must recognise this, he said. “You want robustness, you don’t want to introduce a plan you might regret.”

Improving heating and insulation in private homes was introduced as a way to reduce carbon output. Estimates from the Sustainable Energy Authority suggested we would need to improve 75,000 houses a year but this is three times the rate achieved in 2014, the report says.

“There is more to the world than price, we need to learn how to change behaviour,” Prof FitzGerald said. “How we communicate information to people is important and it is not an easy job.”