New Gov’t Climate Plan offers much improved rhetoric: but An Taisce cautions that “winning slowly will be the same as losing”

18th June 2019
Press Release

An Taisce recognises that the government’s newly published Climate Action Plan could signal a genuine shift away from the token gestures and empty promises of the last decade and a move towards potentially meaningful and measurable climate action. In particular, that would require delivering the proposed amended Climate Action Act this year, as a matter of critical urgency to ensure the required 5 year carbon budgets and sectoral targets are enacted.

As international climate campaigner Bill McKibben has recently noted, in climate action, “Winning Slowly is the Same as Losing” (3); and An Taisce climate committee’s preliminary analysis suggests that the Action Plan still falls well short of the kind of radical, transformational document our recently declared national ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’ warrants. Scientific analyses have repeatedly shown that developed nations like Ireland need to achieve early, deep and permanent cuts in fossil fuel use. Instead, this Climate Action Plan merely outlines very limited emissions reductions of just 2% per annum up to 2030, unfairly leaving much deeper reductions (above 7% a year) to future leadership. Therefore, even if all of this Plan's actions were actually delivered, this remains a plan for slow-motion climate failure, making a claim for far more than our fair share of continued fossil fuel use than our commitments under the Paris Agreement can allow.

The Plan sets out 183 actions in response to the climate emergency. Its plan to establish a micro-generation scheme to allow householders, farmers and businesses to sell surplus green electricity back to the grid is, at least, bowing to reality. Some 31% of renewable electricity capacity in Germany is owned by citizens (1), versus almost zero percent in Ireland. The decision by the Irish government to finally remove obstacles to citizen-produced clean electricity is long overdue. Similarly, the definite commitment to end coal burning at the Moneypoint power station is also long overdue. However, allowing Bord Na Móna to continue to burn peat until 2028 is both ecologically and economically senseless. Worryingly, there is no specific commitment to end peat extraction for horticulture or animal bedding.

Also, unless curbed, the enormous proposed growth in data centres “will severely undermine such limited electricity decarbonisation measures and perversely drive increased used of high carbon natural (fossil) gas in electricity generation”, according to Prof Barry McMullin of DCU, and member of An Taisce’s climate committee.

On transport, what is needed, as identified by the recent Joint Oireachtas Report is a radical modal shift away from car-dependence and towards high quality public transport and dramatically upgraded cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. However, the government instead focuses on a no-modal-shift strategy of “cars to cars” – with an improbable 950,000 electric vehicles to be on the roads by 2030. While this may ease some pollution and emissions problems, it will do nothing to address congestion, unsustainable commuting or many of the public health problems among both adults and children locked into sedentary, car-based lifestyles. Immediate measures to sharply increase the quality and frequency of public transport nationally, rapidly building cycling infrastructure, limit frequent flying and reduce car dependence and motorway speeds are the kinds of system changes now needed if we are in any way serious about treating this as a genuine ‘climate emergency’.

It is also worrying that the government is planning to ‘increase the renewable biofuel content of motor fuels’. Given the EU’s very weak sustainability criteria, biofuels have, at best, an extremely limited role to play in effective decarbonisation.

In agriculture the proposed measures will only achieve actual mitigation if recent increases in the cattle herd and imports of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser since 2011 are reversed. Recent EPA emission projections indicate that the claimed carbon sequestration in forests will not occur unless forest harvesting is limited. In any case, plantation forestry delivers very little carbon sequestration compared to permanent native woodland that also supports far greater biodiversity and delivers landscape water buffering in drought and flood conditions. “Ireland also recently declared a biodiversity emergency, but there is precious little in the Action Plan to suggest biodiversity protection is to be given the urgent priority it clearly warrants”, said John Gibbons, An Taisce climate committee spokesperson.

Critically, if Ireland is serious about ‘climate-proofing’ our society, all capital projects involving long-term lock-in have to be reassessed, including the new runway at Dublin airport and the proposed €700 million Galway bypass.

Earlier this month, the Central Statistics Office revealed that the Irish government spends the staggering annual sum of €4.1 billion on ‘environmentally damaging subsidies’ (2). Fossil fuel subsidies account for €2.5 billion a year, with another €1.5 billion to the agriculture sector (excluding another €500 million in subsidised agri-diesel) . Phasing out of these perverse subsidies could provide much of the funding to help fund the necessary greening of the Irish economy, according to An Taisce.

Importantly, the new Climate Action Plan does stress the very real threat of climate disruption and proposes a much improved set of governance structures to oversee climate action – an amended Climate Action Act, requirements for 5 year carbon budgets, and a Climate Action Delivery Board overseen by the Department of the Taoiseach. However, the Plan’s proposals for “cost effective” measures are based on little more than a business-as-usual analysis that will only nudge (as the Taoiseach put it) business and citizens toward changes that are far too limited in scale and urgency. The Plan perversely fails to account for the many benefits of avoiding the major global damage costs of our continuing use of fossil fuels that are already impacting poor nations and will increasingly impact our futures.

On balance, it is the view of An Taisce’s climate committee that, despite its positive points, the government’s Action Plan still fails to grasp the full urgency and scale of climate action now needed, and ultimately condemns others to bear the costs.

AN TAISCE CONTACTS:

John Gibbons: 087-2332 689 Barry McMullin: 087-913-0513

  1. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/ireland-has-much-to-learn-from-germany-s-energiewende-1.3566640
  2. https://www.rte.ie/news/environment/2019/0604/1053483-damaging-subsidies/
  3. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/bill-mckibben-winning-slowly-is-the-same-as-losing-198205/