Environmental campaigners deem Budget 2018 weak on green initiatives

11 Oct 2017

The Budget has been criticised by green groups. Image: slawomir.gawryluk/Shutterstock

Environment Minister dismisses criticism from green groups.

Budget 2018 was delivered by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, TD, yesterday afternoon (10 October).

While the main points being discussed include the threshold for higher tax rates and targeted changes to USC, there has been some pushback from green organisations and environmental groups around the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Marginal progress

Friends of the Earth deemed Budget 2018 “a complete failure on climate change”, while Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, TD, described the changes as “marginal”, criticising the apparent lack of direction.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, had previously said Ireland would show a “new ambition on climate change”, but was called out by director of Friends of the Earth, Oisín Coghlan, who found “nothing substantial” in yesterday’s announcements.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten, TD, said: “This significant increase in funding allows my department to deliver a step change in efforts to improve energy efficiency in our homes, businesses and across the public sector.

“Building on the National Mitigation Plan, the Budget reflects the incremental steps necessary to ensure a low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable future. We will continue to build on this start over successive budgets.”

What green initiatives are in place for Budget 2018?

In total, €117m was allocated in Budget 2018 to improve energy efficiency in Ireland. €35m of this will be invested in commercial, residential and public sectors to reduce carbon emissions.

€7m in funding will facilitate the roll-out of the new Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme while a further €10m was secured to incentivise the use of electric vehicles.

€11m will be used to continue the landfill remediation programme, and the Environmental Protection Agency will also receive increased funding to continue to monitor noise and air quality, and research climate change.

The Irish Solar Energy Association welcomed the announcement of tax relief for farmers who lease land for solar infrastructure.

CEO Michael McCarthy said: “The Irish Solar Energy Association warmly welcomes confirmation from the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe today that agricultural land leased for solar panels will now be classified as an agricultural activity, provided that the amount of farmland used for solar is limited to 50pc of total acreage.”

Criticism of carbon tax policy

In terms of carbon tax, environmental groups have accused the Government of putting the issue on the long finger, calling for a review to bring proposals forward to 2019’s budget rather than implementing anything concrete this year.

The urgency needed to remove the beneficial treatment for diesel was absent, according to the Environmental Pillar, which represents 26 national organisations. The lack of visible moves to reduce use of diesel has been poorly received.

The Environmental Pillar said: “We need to catch up with the rest of Europe who are moving away from the combustion engine and taking progressive steps toward phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

“While the Pillar does welcome the inclusion of some incentives for the use of electric vehicles, it will take a long time to make a difference and is essentially meaningless in the short term if we do nothing to curb our use of diesel vehicles now.”

Ryan also criticised the government for only investing €3m into new cycling schemes, as he said that 10 times this figure must be made available to really make an impact on congestion issues in our cities.

Naughten noted that his department had seen the second-largest capital increase in 2017 and 2018, with housing being first.

Meanwhile, Coghlan warned that Ireland may miss out on its 2020 climate action targets due to the measures taken in Budget 2018, and could be one of only five EU countries to do so.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects