Questions to ask your general election candidates about climate action

20 Jan 2020

Image: © vivalapenler/

If we want a chance at a sustainable future in Ireland, we need to hold our general election 2020 candidates to account on climate action.

Nominations for the 2020 general election close on Wednesday and already the campaigning has begun in force.

There are many pressing issues expected to be addressed in this general election – record homelessness, a healthcare service in crisis, the inadequacies of direct provision, to name a few. But as a leading source of science and technology news in Ireland, our focus is on the major issue under this topic: the climate crisis.

Whether you have the opportunity to speak to candidates on the doorstep or will be reaching out to them or their parties to find out their stance on your red-line issues, here are some climate-centric questions to consider.

‘If your candidate’s response is centred solely on latte levies that tax the end user, there’s not a whole lot of climate action in that’

First off, simply ask for their stance on the climate crisis. Electing climate sceptics at this critical stage is only going to accelerate our problems.

The major actions for climate crisis mitigation focus on reducing carbon emissions and Ireland is one of the highest producers of greenhouse gases in Europe, emitting 13.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita in 2017. The agricultural sector is the largest contributor to this tally at 33pc but, as seen with recent protests, the Government will need to ensure it engages farmers and the agricultural sector in a programme of just transition in order to make effective changes. Just how candidates expect to do that is a good question.

After agriculture, transport has the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions at 20pc, having doubled from the ’90s into the 21st century. Public transport that is effective, sustainable, affordable, accessible and far-reaching could make a significant impact on this, but, as well as a massive infrastructural investment, this requires a change in mindset. What we need is a dramatic shift away from the single-occupant car as a societal norm, which can only happen with suitable alternatives in place. And it must be stressed, my fellow Dubliners, that any investment should not feed solely into the capital city when parts of the north-west are completely disconnected on transport maps. What are your candidates’ commitments on public transport?

Energy is very close behind transport and every sector’s carbon emissions are tied to energy use, so a big question for the 2020 general election is: how are we going to increase renewable energy use?

And, while we’re on energy, let’s talk about data centres. Ireland has lots of them and our present Government is keen on attracting more. These centres create jobs at the construction phase but, for the size of these warehouse-like builds, the workforce footprint is minimal in the long-term. Ireland’s data centre investments from the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft look good for us economically, but these power-hungry centres have a massive carbon footprint that has hardly been addressed. How does your candidate balance these interests?

This is just a small sampling of questions for your general election candidates. You could also ask about proposed investment in scientific research for climate crisis solutions (such as energy research, next-generation batteries and carbon capture). You could enquire about initiatives and incentives to improve energy use in Irish homes and businesses.

You might have concerns about wildlife and ecological systems you want your candidates to address. Perhaps you’re in an area directly affected by the closure of Bord na Móna’s bogs and you want to know how that transition is going to pan out with possible changes in Government. Or, more broadly speaking, you might want to know if the next Government will have a plan for rewetting the bogs for carbon sequestration.

Finally, you could ask your candidates what they as an individual have done to minimise their carbon footprint. Yes, we need our Government to go beyond targeting individual action, but our representatives need to walk the walk. The 2018 report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change signalled a wake-up call for climate action and stated that “unprecedented changes” would be needed to claw back from the brink. Clearly, we will all have to make changes across the board, so it’s important to see how seriously our politicians heed that scientific warning.

Whatever your line of climate questioning, beware of greenwashing. If your candidate’s response is centred solely on latte levies that tax the end user, there’s not a whole lot of climate action in that. What we need is climate action at source, targeting those responsible for environmentally unfriendly products and practices.

Our country’s present Climate Action Plan is available online, and all who seek your vote should be prepared to field questions on this. Because the big question is: will Ireland continue to be a laggard in tackling the global crisis of our times?

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic