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Greenhouse gases: Government is all promises, no action

The Irish Times View

How many warnings must the Environmental Protection Agency issue?

How many times must the Environmental Protection Agency issue warnings that Ireland will overshoot its EU emissions target for 2020 before the penny drops with anyone in Government? For at least five years, the agency’s annual assessments of progress (if any) being made to curb greenhouse gas emissions have made it clear that current and planned policies are simply “not sufficient” to meet the EU target for Ireland of achieving a 20 per cent cut by 2020.

This essential message has been given to ministers again and again over the years but it has obviously fallen on deaf ears

Indeed, the latest set of figures “demonstrate the need for new and innovative measures to meet the challenges that Ireland faces in making the transition to a low-carbon economy”, according to the EPA. And with Ireland facing new obligations to reduce emissions in the next decade (to 2030), it is clear that the further away we are from the 20 per cent reduction target for 2020, the more onerous will be the compliance challenges in the years ahead. This essential message has been given to ministers again and again over the years but it has obviously fallen on deaf ears.

Ireland’s agricultural emissions are ‘uniquely high’ in Europe, a conference on climate change heard. File photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

The draft National Mitigation Strategy, published last month by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten is long on analysis, but falls abysmally short on actual policy measures to cut emissions, especially in agriculture and transport .

Instead of providing a realistic road map to achieve the declared national policy of reducing our emissions by at least 80 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2050, the 98-page document merely marks the beginning of a “process of development of medium to long-term options … to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades”, as the Minister himself says in his foreword. Thus, the abbreviation “TBD” (to be determined) is used repeatedly throughout the draft strategy in relation to possible measures.

There is no commitment, for example, to switch the public transport fleet from highly-polluting diesel to hybrid or electric vehicles, even though this is already happening on a widespread basis in other countries. All the draft strategy blandly states is that “by 2050, the technological ambition is for the nation’s car fleet, along with some of our public transport buses and rail lines, to be low/near zero emissions”.

There is no firm commitment to switch the coal-fired Moneypoint power station – Ireland’s largest single source of carbon emissions – to gas or other fuel

How even this nebulous goal is to be achieved is not spelled out. If the Government was really serious, it would authorise the National Transport Authority to permit Dublin Bus and other operators to spend the extra money to purchase hybrid or electric vehicles without any further dithering. Similarly, there is no firm commitment to switch the coal-fired Moneypoint power station – Ireland’s largest single source of carbon emissions – to gas or other fuel; this, too, is put on the long finger as something to be determined in the future.

It’s beyond time for the Government to act, rather than just talk, about climate change.