Why is the Government so late when it comes to taking climate action?

18 Jan 2019

Image: © icedmocha/Stock.adobe.com

The Irish Government is doubling down on its message that taking climate action is necessary, all while hundreds of millions in EU fines await, writes Colm Gorey.

Today (18 January), the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton, TD, is proposing an all-Government plan that he says will make Ireland a “leader in responding to climate change”.

Over the course of the day, the Minister and representatives from industry, agriculture, NGOs, Government departments and academia will sit down to hash out ideas on how Ireland can make the country more sustainable.

Among the potential questions the Government could raise on the agenda is: ‘How can we bring people along with us?’ But the real question should be: ‘How can the world bring Ireland along with it?’

2018: A year to forget

When it comes to climate action – at a time when nearly every person and their dog have heard at least something on the scourge of single-use plastics – 2018 was a national disgrace for Ireland.

In December, we were ranked the worst country in the entire EU for climate action, and 48th out of 56 countries globally by the Climate Change Performance Index. In fact, the performance was so bad that its authors stated we haven’t a chance of meeting our 2030 target as set out by the EU.

There was also the Climate Action Network Europe study that placed us second-worst in Europe, just ahead of the coal-producing nation of Poland, due to our “stiff opposition to climate action nationally and in the EU”.

But perhaps what irked many environmental campaigners the most was the Government’s broken promise to introduce a carbon tax for Budget 2019, most likely due to fears that it would result in the same visceral reaction that met Irish Water.

At the time, Oisín Coghlan, budgetary spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar, said the decision was a “two-fingers to everyone under 35, a two-fingers to the Paris Agreement and a two-fingers to the hundreds of millions of people already living with the devastating impacts of climate change in Africa, Asia and Latin America”.

All in all, here we are entering 2019 as a so-called “climate laggard”, and only now the Government is discussing a formal plan for climate action from within, a few months after it admitted that it was “nowhere near close” to meeting our 2020 targets.

Going nowhere with EVs

Perhaps the greatest disparity seen between the Government and reality is in its claim surrounding electric vehicles (EVs), whereby it expects 20pc of the country’s vehicles to be powered by electricity by 2030.

Yet in 2019, estimates now put the expected number at 8,000 by 2020, 4pc of the Government’s estimates and 0.3pc of the total cars registered in Ireland.

The Government can’t force people to buy EVs, but it shows how disconnected it is from the realities of climate action and how it is lacking in efforts to make purchasing an EV too good to resist.

The past two months have been a whirlwind of attempted redemption from the Government, with it promising to end the purchasing of single-use plastics for State purposes and sending its legally required climate action plan draft to the EU.

The admission from Government that we were never going to meet our 2020 target failed to emphasise the seriously damaging fact that the State will have to potentially shell out as much as €600m every year it fails to comply with targets, a figure the Government has argued as being lower in the past.

“The reality is that it will require difficult choices. Every person, every community, every business, every home, every farm and every school will have to make changes in the way we live, and work and travel,” the Minister said after today’s announcement.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the Government is unwilling to make the difficult choices itself.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic