Backtracking on climate change


AND SO, it has come to pass. After weeks of speculation in environmental circles, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has finally come clean and announced that he has no intention of introducing legislation to set out Ireland’s stall on how we are going to tackle the fundamental challenge of climate change. This is despite a firm commitment in the Fine Gael-Labour programme for government to “publish a Climate Change Bill which will provide certainty surrounding Government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reductions, in line with negotiated EU 2020 targets”.

Ireland is already legally obliged under EU legislation to achieve a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and possibly as much as 30 per cent if a wider international agreement can be reached. Mr Hogan said yesterday that “the right policy must be in place before legislation can be introduced”.

What he is doing, in other words, amounts to putting the cart before the horse. It is surely self-evident that the primary purpose of legislation is to provide a legal framework for the achievement of social, economic or environmental objectives – and, in this case, to set clear targets and timetables by which such targets would be achieved. Instead, the Minister intends to rely on vague consensus-building and voluntary initiatives.

One has to wonder if Mr Hogan is making a solo run in this vitally important area of public policy. Just two weeks ago, Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore reaffirmed that work on climate change legislation “will be progressed” by the Cabinet committee of which he is a member, with the aim of delivering it “in 2012”. But the committee meeting last month at which policy was to be discussed didn’t take place; it was cancelled because Ministers were preoccupied by insurance company Aviva’s peremptory announcement that it was planning to halve its Irish workforce.

As his party’s long-time environment spokesman in opposition, Mr Gilmore was committed to introducing a Climate Bill – and so, indeed, was Mr Hogan. Is it the case that, now they are both in Government, they can blithely cast aside their earlier convictions in favour of placating vested interests with a stake in the status quo?

The Department of the Environment’s Review of National Climate Policy, published yesterday, is to be followed by an “independent study” by the secretariat to the National Economic and Social Council and yet another round of public consultations to “enable all stakeholders to engage in the policy development process”. Even with a third of Thailand under water and the Horn of Africa suffering the worst drought in six decades, we’re going to continue talking about climate change and deluding ourselves that we’ve managed to achieve our relatively modest Kyoto Protocol target by taking decisive action to cut emissions when, in reality, the economic recession has taken care of it.

By ruling out sectoral targets, Mrl Hogan is not only deeply misguided, but also negligent and even reckless in terms of actually achieving a transition to the low-carbon economy he ostensibly favours.