Irish Times view on public mood for action on climate change

Strong indications that Irish citizens are supportive of collective action

The World Meteorological Organisation confirmed last week that there is no sign of a reversal in the global trend of increasing greenhouse gas levels which are driving climate change, sea level rises and ever more extreme weather.

“The window of opportunity for action is almost closed,” the organisation concluded.

That warning coincided with Prof Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a lead author in the recent landmark report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, telling the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action that Ireland's high carbon emissions are far above what is required.

If the State is to meet its commitment to efforts to keep the global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees this century, it has much to do.


Simultaneously, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton conceded that Ireland was well short of target in meeting some of its commitments for 2020. Short-term "compliance costs"to try to close the gap are now likely to be in excess of €100 million; after 2020 the cost will be a multiple of that figure.

The carbon tax initiative should be the first step in a united political response

Underscoring the financial ramifications of what’s ahead, the ESRI said carbon tax on fossil fuel consumption should be increased 15-fold if Ireland is to meet its 2030 emissions targets. Carbon taxes reduce emissions and shift behaviour away from fossil fuel use – the biggest contributor to carbon in the atmosphere.

And given the scale of the task, every available cent raised is needed for mitigation of the inevitable consequences of what, based on current trajectories, could soon become climate chaos.

Against this background, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's acceptance of the need for sustained and clearly-identified carbon tax increases over the next decade is a positive development. Prompted by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, the Taoiseach acknowledged the merits of a revenue-neutral model; in short a shift away from labour taxes to consumer taxes.

The resultant revenue would be returned to citizens by way of a “carbon cashback”, either via the tax system or social welfare supports.

Ryan suggested that each political party should sign up to such an approach. "This would give people certainty in deciding on the types of purchases to make in the coming years, regardless of the shape of the government," he added. Bruton also favours this cross-party approach which brings the considerable benefit of not being slowed by a change of administration. The Oireachtas Climate Action Committee is the obvious forum to forge a new consensus.

There are strong indications that Irish citizens are supportive of collective action on climate change, and equally compelling evidence of political inaction. The all-party approach could help to reverse this. The carbon tax initiative should be the first step in a united political response.