Ireland fiddles as the world burns
Following hot on the heels of a record-shattering 2015, the first three months of 2016 have already rewritten the global temperature record book, with what scientists are describing as “off the charts” temperature increases.
This week, scientists have confirmed that 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered a severe bleaching event, leaving much of the world’s largest living structure ‘dead or dying’. Meanwhile, more than 12% of Greenland’s massive ice pack began melting last week, the earliest ‘summer’ melt ever recorded.
Ireland is also vulnerable to intensifying climate impacts. The latest winter flooding event caused great hardship and economic loss in the Shannon region. Storm Desmond, which dumped record levels of rainfall on parts of Ireland in early December 2015 was, according to the UK Met Office, seven times more likely to occur as a result of the impact of climate change.
Commenting on the global temperature increases already recorded in early 2016, Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research said: “This is really quite stunning... it's completely unprecedented; we are in a kind of climate emergency now”.
In December 2015, nearly 200 countries, including Ireland, endorsed the Paris Agreement, with the stated aim of urgently decarbonising global energy systems and avoiding dangerous climate change. So, how is Ireland responding to this global emergency? We are missing EU targets that themselves fall far short of the immediate effort needed to match the far more challenging climate targets we agreed to at Paris. Data produced last month by the Environment Protection Agency confirmed we are going to miss our EU-mandated 2020 emissions reductions targets. Instead of the sharp reductions we are legally mandated to achieve, Irish agriculture is due to increase its emissions by 6-7%, while transport emissions are set to climb by between 10-16% versus their 2014 levels. The situation for Ireland’s traded emissions sector is little better, as EPA data issued this week has confirmed. While across the EU, participants in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) recorded modest emissions cuts, in 2015, Ireland’s ETS companies increased emissions by a hefty 5.3%.
John Gibbons of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee, commented:
"At Paris, knowing the extreme danger of inaction, we agreed to act urgently to cut our economy’s greenhouse emissions year on year to reach near-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our new Climate Act mandates a transition pathway to a low carbon future. Instead we are doing the exact opposite. We are choosing a path of short-term financial gain, intentionally adding to global impacts and undermining our future well-being. Why are we being so foolish?"
Falls in the international price of coal led the ESB to use a whopping 20% more coal in its Moneypoint power plant last year, while Ireland’s aviation emissions shot up by 11% in a single year. Within the ETS, levies on carbon pollution are supposed to encourage companies to cut their emissions, but with a levy of just over €5 a tonne, it is far cheaper for Irish companies to pollute with impunity and pay a pittance than to invest in low-emissions technology or renewable energy.
Taking meaningful steps to dramatically alter our trajectory towards catastrophic climate change needs political leadership and bold thinking. This week, the Danish Parliament voted to phase out all new non-electric vehicles from its national fleet by 2025. We need to follow suit.
This type of clear action sends the clearest possible market signal to companies currently wedded to fossil fuels: win by switching now to zero-emissions technology or face being regulated out of existence. Paris-aligned ambition means we need to push for stronger targets, not weaker ones. Ireland’s current version of bold political action is to take the begging bowl to Brussels yet again and plead our “special case” to avoid facing EU emissions penalties of some €600 million a year for failing to rein in either agricultural or transport emissions. However, sources within the European Commission have made it clear that an exemption for Ireland is “highly unlikely”.
That translates to €11.5 million a week, every week, in money that should be available to run our schools and hospitals and put Gardai on the beat that will instead be paid by ordinary taxpayers while the motor industry, fossil fuel companies and agribusiness sectors pocket the profits. Following Paris, a radical and sustained change in direction is required.
" In an era of deepening international environmental crisis, Ireland is increasingly behaving like a ‘rogue state’, with politicians afraid to lead, many public officials afraid of change and a system in thrall to special interests."
said John Gibbons of An Taisce., he continued
" We as a nation are entitled to expect much better, for this generation and more especially, for the next. Ireland today joins other nations in New York to formally sign the Paris climate change accord, but regrettably, it is clear our politicians are only playing lip service and as soon as the ink is dry on this document, they seek to abandon our solemn commitments and continue down our reckless path of narrow self-interest."
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee Tel: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
Link to An Taisce's Climate Change Infographics https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxEVOTzgFnKERUQ4Mmxfd3BqRWM/view?usp=sharing