Taoiseach Enda Kenny will not be going to the forthcoming UN climate summit in Paris entirely empty-handed. He will be able to point to the Government’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, which has now passed report stage in the Dáil.
It will be enacted weeks before world leaders gather in the French capital to chart a new course in dealing with "the stark reality of global warming", as the Taoiseach himself described it just over a year ago. Addressing a summit in New York convened by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Mr Kenny called on leading nations to "show conviction" so that others would follow. He said: "We will only succeed in tackling climate change if we adopt a sustainable and truly collective approach, one that is ambitious but fair, that is challenging but achievable . . . We have no time to waste."
But if the Taoiseach has any conviction about the need to be ambitious in dealing with the greatest environmental threat facing humanity, it is very lightly held. Less than a month after his New York outing, he was in Brussels for a meeting of EU leaders to agree on 2030 targets for cutting emissions, making the argument for Ireland to be treated as a special case, even an exceptional one, because of the importance of our agricultural sector.
"I want to make it clear to the European Council that Ireland will be ambitious about our targets but we don't want to be in a position where completely unreachable targets are set for us . . . We're different – genuinely different -- than any other country in Europe on this particular issue."
Mr Kenny knows that Ireland will not even meet EU targets for 2020, never mind 2030, not least because our emissions are rising again with the recovery and we simply haven’t done enough to curb their growth. So Irish officials are working hard to secure a lower cut for Ireland in next year’s “burden-sharing” deal to implement the already agreed 40 per cent reduction in overall EU emissions by 2030. In what is essentially a poor mouth argument, they are pressing the EU to have regard for the depth of the recession here and the constraints it imposed on investment to reduce emissions.
Add to this shameless horse-trading the relative weakness of the Government's climate legislation, with no target set for 2050, and the inescapable conclusion is that the Taoiseach and his ministers -- both Fine Gael and Labour -- are not really serious about tackling climate change. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity," as Yeats wrote.
And whatever it is they are passionate about, it clearly has little to do with securing an environmentally sustainable future for the world we inhabit.