Irish Times view on the Climate Action Plan: activity must match ambition

These are minimal requirements for an effective response to our grim predicament but it would be churlish not to recognise them as real progress

The appropriately broad scope of the Government’s Climate Action Plan must be acknowledged. A scan of the plan’s headings shows that this administration, however belatedly, has fully grasped that global heating is negatively impacting every aspect of our life and that a plethora of policies and behaviours require urgent changes.

Other general aspects of the plan mark significant advances. Its structure, with each of 183 actions broken down into “steps necessary for delivery” and tied to a quarterly timeline, indicates a new degree of seriousness. This offers a quantitative and temporal scale against which progress must be measured. The plan also incorporates a new degree of oversight across departments and sets out targets not just in general terms of emissions reduction, but with specific goals for different sectors. Failure to achieve them would be subject to penalties.

These are only minimal requirements for an effective response to our grim predicament. But it would be churlish not to recognise them as real progress, especially for a Government that has been so shamefully “laggard” in this critical area – to borrow the Taoiseach’s own word.

The most striking of the plan’s many points is the indication – although not a commitment – that the Government will draw up a path to achieve net zero-carbon emissions by 2050. This is radical. The current target is an 80 per cent reduction, now reckoned by many experts to be too limited to keep global heating within 2 degrees, as envisaged by the Paris Agreement.

Sense of ambition

Its inclusion demonstrates an admirable sense of ambition but it must be qualified by the fact that we have no chance of meeting our existing 2020 emissions target and are much too far off course to have realistic hopes of meeting the target for 2030. Critics will also note that many of the actions promised break down into options to be considered or reviewed rather than undertakings to actually do something new.

Some of the most disturbingly confused thinking comes in the very difficult areas of agriculture and land use, including forestry and peatlands policy. It is not credible, for example, to speak about reducing carbon emissions on the land through better “management” while continuing to increase rather than reduce the national dairy and beef herd which is a major source of our greenhouse gas emissions. Much more recognition of our climate-linked biodiversity emergency is also needed in this and other sections.

Although the plan acknowledges the case for greatly increased citizen engagement in climate policy, the Government must be conscious that new laws, drawn up without full commitment to a just transition and the maximum possible social consensus, will stymie the very best-laid intentions.