Irish Times view on Ireland’s response to global warming: Time to step up

Turning climate plans into action requires a stepping-up in the country’s response

A burnt forest on the slopes of Mount Etna, in Sicily. Photograph: Salvatore Cavalli

A burnt forest on the slopes of Mount Etna, in Sicily. Photograph: Salvatore Cavalli

 

Like one devastating wave following hard on another, but reaching ever closer to us on the shore, Thursday’s ‘Status of Ireland’s Climate 2020’ report made local and particular what Monday’s ‘Climate Change 2021’ IPCC assessment had just told the world in general.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief climate scientist, said the study by UCC scientists, published with Met Éireann and the Marine Institute, “brings home the reality of global climate change to Ireland … All of these indicators are going in the wrong direction.”

Methane, the most powerful warming gas in the short term, has risen here by 170 per cent over pre-industrial levels. This is largely due to decades of agricultural policies that recklessly ignored climate science warnings.

The farming, transport and building sectors are all going to have to make almost inconceivable shifts in their practices

And no magical accounting by the farming lobbies will make the methane from the dairy herd disappear.

It is especially worrying for us, as a vulnerable island nation, that sea levels are rising annually.In short, both reports show us that climate change is a real, present and rapidly worsening danger, reflected in current extreme weather events at home.

It is very troubling, then, that the political response has been so muted and lame. The Government parties acknowledge, almost by rote, that both reports are “stark warnings” and “calls to action”. But they want us to believe that their Climate Action Plan, due shortly, is sufficient to the needs of the day. That is most unlikely to be the case.

Detailed and informed opposition responses came from People Before Profit and Sinn Féin. But both cling to the Irish left’s bizarre aversion to carbon taxes as part of the solution.

Yes, transitional justice is both an ethical and pragmatic essential to any climate plan. We must avoid the arrogant impositions that led to the gilets jaunes rebellion in France. And the “polluter pays’” principle rightly insists that those who pollute most should pay most. But the left’s voters must share some part of the pain of change, as well as benefitting from its opportunities.

The farming, transport and building sectors are all going to have to make almost inconceivable shifts in their practices, for sure. However, what is required is not tinkering with parts of our system. Coping with climate change demands a holistic shift towards a new economic – and social – paradigm, involving drastically changed lifestyles and nature-based solutions.

Only a vision rooted in practical realities can effect this shift, but it needs to be expressed in inspiring terms to mobilise our society to act together, in confidence, under great threat.

This was achieved in remarkable fashion by Leo Varadkar in his St Patrick’s Day address at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. We desperately need to see the same leadership qualities emerge again, but there is very little evidence of it in the climate arena so far. Ireland’s response needs to be stepped up.

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