Ireland has for the last decade been consistently bottom of the pack in terms of real and meaningful action to tackle climate change. We are set to be one of only five countries in the EU to miss our 2020 targets, which means we will be subject to hefty fines from the EU up to 600bn Euro.
Our inability, or unwillingness, to reduce our emissions in the agriculture sector, in particular from dairy and beef farming, as well as an inability to tackle emissions in the transport sector have established Ireland as one of Europe’s laggards when it comes to climate action.
The launch of the All of Government plan to tackle climate breakdown last week and the level of ambition contained within it would almost certainly have not come about if it were not for the determined and constant engagement by NGOs such as Christian Aid and others in the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
The call to action from civil society has been ongoing for the last decade, but in recent years it has been accompanied by the voices of the citizens assembly, as well as youth and mass mobilisations for the climate strike, and the ‘green wave’ of electoral successes for pro-environment parties during Ireland’s recent European elections.
Despite being the most ambitious plan to date from the state, there are still many areas which are lacking.
- Jennifer Higgins, Advocacy & Policy Officer, Christian Aid Ireland.
There is an over-reliance on switching to privately owned electric vehicles by 2030 rather than investing in improved rural and urban public transport or cycling infrastructure, and for homeowners the cost of ‘retrofitting’ your house or adding solar panels remains unaffordable for many. Further, there are few if any meaningful changes to reducing emissions in the agricultural sector.
But there are many positives too. The commitment for Ireland to reach ‘net-zero’ on carbon emissions by 2050, and to enshrine this in law, is a marked advance in ambition from previous climate action plans and finally brings us in line with our other EU nations
There is also clear determination to meet our 2030 climate target. The plan lays out fundamental reforms of climate policy-making and ensures democratic oversight and accountability.
The Dáil will adopt legally-binding five-year limits on the total pollution that can be produced in the country, called Carbon Budgets. There will be a new Delivery Board chaired by the Taoiseach's Department, an important measure to guarantee buy-in across all government departments. The Climate Council will be given new powers to advise and evaluate government. Finally, the Joint Committee on Climate Action will also continue and will become a Public Accounts Committee for Carbon.
Christian Aid and Stop Climate Chaos have been calling for these changes for many years in the lead up to the 2015 Climate Act. Their inclusion now in the 2019 All of Government Plan, although late, is vindication of our work and evidence that sometimes change arrives slowly and incrementally.
While the government’s new plan is not the paradigm shift we truly need to revolutionise the way things are done in Ireland, and to meaningfully face up to the massive task at hand in terms of the global fight on climate change, it is still an important commitment to meet our targets and legislate for the achievement of these, which we hope will eventually lead to the development of more radical policies.
The climate emergency is the defining challenge facing world leaders today.
The government has never had a clearer mandate to act and now needs to ensure the swift introduction of the legislative measures outlined in the plan to ensure Ireland meets its climate targets. This will not only positively impact our own citizens but will make a difference to the lives of the poorest people on the planet and those at the forefront of the fight on climate change.
How we got here
- The most recent chapter in getting to this plan started in 2017,with the establishment of a Citizens Assembly to consider the question of ‘how to make the state a leader in tackling climate change’. A hundred randomly selected citizens endorsed 13 policy recommendations that demonstrated an ambition far in excess of anything the government had been considering up to that point.
- Twice in 2018, Ireland came bottom of the back in the EU on climate action and ambition. In the CAN Europe June 2018 ranking, Ireland come second last to Poland and in the December 2018 Climate Change Performance Index Ireland came last in Europe. These rankings, along with the massive amount of media attention they brought with them, further forced the government to start paying attention to their bad reputation on one of the fasting growing issues of our time.
- In October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that we needed to keep warming below 1.5 C and we only had 12 years to do so.
- In the second half of 2018 the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action was formed, with the mandate to meet and call witnesses in relation to the recommendations of the citizen’s assembly, producing a report in February of this year. The committee’s report confirmed the need for ambitious and swift action on climate change.
- 2018 also saw the change of Minister responsible for climate change from Dennis Naughton to Richard Bruton, with the new Minister clearly determined to change the reputation of his department. Shortly after his arrival he announced his intentions to create the ‘all of government plan’ for climate action.
Author: Jennifer Higgins, Advocacy & Policy Officer at Christian Aid Ireland