Note - at the time of writing we understand that the report will be issued Thursday afternoon. If this is changed we will issue a further press release.

After years of abject policy failure and spiralling emissions, the newly published Report of the all-party Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) represents a potential sea change in Irish political engagement, according to An Taisce, which has welcomed its publication.

From a starting position of being, in the Taoiseach’s own words, a laggard on climate action, and having squandered so much political and diplomatic goodwill at EU level trying to pander to the special pleading of domestic lobbyists, the JOCCA report builds instead on much of the trail-blazing work of the Citizens’ Assembly.

The Assembly’s findings revealed a gulf between the public’s genuine sense of urgency and its appetite for ambitious climate action compared with the half-hearted and equivocal response from successive governments over the last decade and more.

If acted on with courage and conviction, An Taisce believes the JOCCA report can help restore Ireland’s tarnished reputation as a good faith actor in international climate action. The report lays the groundwork for actions to help set Ireland on the path of sustained emissions reductions across all sectors.

It can also potentially usher in a revolution in our energy, transport, built environment and agricultural sectors, ensuring Ireland plays its full part in climate mitigation, as well as preparing us to meet the challenges of adapting to climate impacts that are already unavoidable.

The report acknowledges that Ireland will miss its 2020 emissions reductions targets by a very wide margin, so we have a huge amount of catch-up to achieve our 2030 targets given our starting point. The JOCCA statement: ‘The State must ensure that emissions rapidly decrease in line with a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the IPCC’s recent analysis’ is to be strongly welcomed as a reality-based assessment of the challenges ahead.

The report also provides for 5-yearly Carbon Budgets ‘consistent with the emissions reductions pathway to 2030 and 2050 targets’. This too is to be welcomed broadly, as it places emissions reductions beyond the whim of day-to-day politics and instead bakes in measurable rolling targets.

While the JOCCA report covered a wide range of topics, from Just Transition to Citizen and Community Engagement and Incentivising Climate Action, we focus below with our initial reaction on five key areas (we will issue further analysis on this report in the coming days):

On agriculture, which accounts for a third of Ireland’s entire national emissions, and whose emissions are continuing to rise, An Taisce welcomes the JOCCA statement that: ‘there is a need for a more diversified, resilient, sustainable and equitable model for Irish agriculture’. The Committee correctly recognises that Irish agriculture has become over-reliant on emissions-intensive beef and dairy production.

The Committee observed that: ‘Ireland cannot meet its international emissions targets without tackling agricultural sector emissions’. This, contrary to the views emanating from Teagasc and elsewhere, will not occur as a result of trivial savings made via ‘smart farming’ initiatives, but will require a root-and-branch review of our agricultural production models.

This in turn will mean standing up to powerful agri-industrial organisations, who primarily represent the interests of multinational food giants and certain representative groups over the interests of ordinary farm families, many of whom are only surviving due to CAP payments. We are disappointed that the report does not explicitly call for a reduction in the national herd to a sustainable level.

Emissions have also continued to spiral upwards from Ireland’s transport sector. The JOCCA report recommends a modal shift away from over-dependence on a car-based system and towards an ‘active transport’ model.

This, based on clean, high quality public transport, quality cycling infrastructure and walking, will deliver major emissions reductions, better air quality and safer, quieter urban areas. The important health co-benefits include reductions in both obesity and diabetes. However, squaring this new approach with continued support for airport expansion and major road projects is problematical.

The report’s focus on rapid ramp-up of offshore wind energy is long overdue. Ireland has among the best wind speeds in Europe and this represents a major economic opportunity if done at scale and with real ambition.

Recommended changes to community energy are also welcome, but An Taisce is extremely disappointed that the report has not come down in favour of urgently exiting the burning of both imported coal and subsidised domestic peat for energy generation. We are also cautious about the definition of ‘renewable energy’ as this may include imported biomass, which is entirely unsustainable.

Built environment
The report outlines the need for massive increases in the number of deep retrofits carried out nationally, but its recommendations on energy upgrades for schools, hospitals and public buildings are weak. There is little mention in the report of the carbon impacts of high-emissions materials like concrete in building. Its ‘road map’ to decarbonise the retrofit of rental property by 2030 is to be welcomed, but overall, major questions remain over the skills and personnel to implement much of the above remedial work.

Education The Committee recognised a clear deficit in ‘climate literacy’ among the Irish population as a whole. We welcome their decision to ask that a comprehensive expert review of the primary and secondary school curriculae be carried out. An Taisce has in the past had to draw attention to sub-standard and misleading content being circulated to school children on climate change.

We also welcome the Committee’s call for a ‘significant awareness-raising programme by the Government’ on climate change. The lack of any clear communication on this issue by the State in recent years has further hampered public understanding and awareness.

An Taisce note and welcome the idea of imposing formal quotas of climate-related content on all licensed broadcasters, and welcome the suggestion of requiring the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to draft guidelines on the clear and accurate communication of climate change before the end of 2019.

The public gets most of its information via the media, and closing the ‘information gap’ on climate change is a key step towards climate action, in our view.

Overall, and with reservations as noted, An Taisce commends the Oireachtas committee for its diligence in examining a large volume of evidence over the last six months and for producing a report which we feel may prove transformative.

An Taisce now urges Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Climate Action Minister, Richard Bruton and Opposition Leader, Micheál Martin to give their fullest political backing to ensure the committee’s recommendations are given the force of law as soon as possible.

Mr Bruton recently met with some of the thousands of schoolchildren who took to the streets to demand real government action and leadership on what is the defining crisis of the era.

Today is the time to prove that he and his government are prepared to atone for years of failure and inaction. Is this Government now prepared to act in the best interests of the people who elected them, with the well-being of future generations in mind, rather than pandering once more to the handful of lobbyists trying to subvert meaningful climate action?

For further information, contact:
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland