Inaction and lack of vision on climate change exposed

Environmental Protection Agency analysis underlines how difficult it will be for Ireland to become a low-carbon economy

 

The update this week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on greenhouse gas emissions makes grim reading: Ireland is falling behind the 2020 targets for reductions agreed with the EU by as much as 50 per cent. The EPA is an independent body and its brief includes raising public awareness and advising on policy. It has never been noted for stridency. Indeed, some have accused it of being a watchdog that hardly ever barks. This makes its analysis of the position on climate change all the more disturbing.

“Current and planned policies and measures are not sufficient to meet the 2020 targets,” the agency states baldly. It goes on to warn that this situation casts doubt “over efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy in the long term”. The language is subdued but, on any reading, this report makes a mockery of the Taoiseach’s call at the UN’s COP21 meeting in Paris last November “to provide lasting foundations for the preservation and sustainability” of future generations.

The outgoing Government’s agenda in this area has been in practice the reverse of this admirable long-term vision. It devoted its energies to pursuing a short-term bonanza for the dairy industry after milk quotas were lifted; this despite the overwhelming evidence that the FoodWise 2025 policy of rapidly expanding dairy (and beef) production will put us further behind our emissions targets with every passing year.

Likewise, there was no sign that the Government was willing to invest in transport initiatives to reduce dependence on private cars and fossil fuels. The current model of economic growth is again producing short-term jobs, but it needs to be radically reshaped and redirected if it is to lead towards – and not away from – the low-to-zero carbon future to which we supposedly aspire.

The detail of the EPA report makes it clear that Ireland needs to be cutting emissions in the agriculture and transport sectors especially. Reductions in other sectors, like residential and commercial heating and the creation of increased carbon sinks through judicious forestry plantation, are welcome. But they do not come close to compensating for the drastically negative trend on our farms and on our roads.

Given the linkage between climate change and recent storms and flooding, and the prospect of more to come, it is extraordinary that none of the four big political parties showed any awareness of the seriousness of this issue during the election campaign. If a vision including future generations is too much to expect from whatever government now emerges, perhaps the prospect of EU fines of €60 million a year (and rising) from 2020 onwards for failing to meet emissions targets might concentrate its mind. This is a sad comment on the state of national politics on the centenary of the high-minded 1916 proclamation.

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