From The Irish Examiner Tuesday 15th September

Climate change - When will we take this crisis seriously?

YESTERDAY Environment Minister John Gormley said he believed climate change is the most fundamental and far-reaching challenge facing humanity.

He warned that this is a national and an international problem and that it threatens everything we have achieved or might achieve.

Because our dominant political parties have not engaged with this crisis it has been left to the Greens to drive the agenda. This brought the Greens prominence they might not otherwise have enjoyed, but it consigned this do-or-die issue to the fringes of political discourse. This marginalisation is a tacit downgrading of the issue, a downgrading we will all come to regret.

We work ourselves into a frenzy over NAMA. We take to the streets about the minutiae of the Lisbon Treaty, but when someone describes climate change as "the most fundamental and far-reaching challenge facing humanity" we turn to the back pages to see what's on television.

Though NAMA and Lisbon are hugely significant, no one will die because of them. However, unfettered climate change will cost lives, hundreds of thousands certainly, possibly many more. We're either in denial or recklessly stupid. It is this denial that allows politicians to avoid the inevitable hard decisions if we are to confront climate change. It is this kind of denial that allows politicians break their promises on these issues.

In October 2000 Noel Dempsey warned us that "business as usual is no longer an option for Ireland" as he announced the Government's National Climate Change Strategy. A pivotal objective was a carbon tax, radical improvements in energy efficiency in construction and transport, and the phasing out of the coal-fired electricity plant at Moneypoint in Clare.

It is saddening but not surprising to record that the intervening years have seen tremendous growth in emissions from Ireland's transport and construction sectors because of developer-driven urban sprawl. Moneypoint is, nine years later, pushing more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every week.

Almost a decade later we are still ducking and diving over a carbon tax. According to the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) "active lobbying by business groups and the opposition from... Charlie McCreevy" blocked the measure. Yet another denial of the consequences of our actions.

Yesterday Mr Gormley said climate change legislation would include specific provisions on climate change adaptation – so, we're still talking and planning and dodging while the rest of the world moves on.

Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991, with a hefty 20 cent a litre levy. Since 1990, Sweden's economy has expanded by 50%, but emissions have been cut and have actually declined by a tenth.

This December, representatives from 170 countries will meet in Copenhagen to finalise details of an agreement designed to carry on the work of the Kyoto Protocol. Undoubtedly Ireland will make appropriate commitments and the attending minister will make a statement of commitment and intent.

Will that commitment suffer the same fate as Noel Dempsey's 2000 declaration or will we properly engage with the issue before it is really too late?

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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