New Dáil must tackle the critically important climate change issues

The new Dáil, however it is composed, will have only a short window of time to engage with critically important climate change issues, says Cara Augustenborg

Removing our dependence on fossil fuels is an enormous challenge, but is easier than addressing the impacts of climate change later.

Every four years, we add a day to the year to synchronise our calendar with the Earth’s revolution around the sun because, as climate activist and Canadian author, Naomi Klein, says “it’s easier to change our human systems than to change the laws of nature”.

The same can be said with respect to addressing climate change. While removing our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, peat, and gas is an enormous societal challenge, it is still easier and cheaper than addressing the horrendous impacts of climate change later down the road.

That’s why, as part of leap day this year, groups around the world are holding events to push for a justice-based transition away from fossil fuels and towards new economic and energy systems. In more than 20 countries, there are teach-ins, film screenings, community forums, and mobilisations happening to make 2016 a true leap year for the climate justice movement.

This leap day movement began in Canada last September driven by Naomi Klein and a number of Canadian celebrities — actors Donald Sutherland and Rachel McAdams and musicians Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Alanis Morissette.

Canada’s reputation for climate action is one of the worst in the world, placed among the top 10 global emitters of greenhouse gases with per capita emissions of 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually — slightly higher than Ireland’s own per capita emissions of 17 tonnes per annum.

Extraction of Canada’s lucrative oil sands (a mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen) are the leading cause of their increasing greenhouse gas emission. So it wasn’t surprising when Klein launched the Leap Manifesto last September, calling Canada’s record on climate change “a crime against humanity’s future” and urging for a rapid shift to a fully sustainable energy economy over the next two decades, it was met with harsh criticism within Canada’s corporate press, which claimed the manifesto advocated the “overthrow of capitalism” and would crash the Canadian economy.

In reality, the Leap Manifesto was simply a science-based, independent political platform to address climate change and social rights through a transition to a renewable energy-based economy. It’s simple, all-inclusive approach attracted the approval of more than 33,000 Canadian citizens, including endorsement by more than 100 Canadian organisations.

Ireland’s equivalent of the Leap Manifesto, Post-Carbon Ireland, was launched just before the election. In an unprecedented effort by 29 academics from across the Irish universities, it called for one key action all political parties could support: the immediate establishment of a Citizens’ Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland. The convention would enable the sustained, citizen-led engagement to unite all of society in planning and creating a just, managed, transition to a secure, flourishing, and authentically sustainable post-carbon world.

Within weeks of its launch, the convention garnered support from more than 600 signatories and received unconditional support from People Before Profit and the Green Party and equivocal support from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Labour, People Before Profit, and Fine Gael.

The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating on impacts of climate change and the historic UN’ Paris Climate Agreement soon to be ratified by nearly 200nations mean climate change can no longer be ignored.

To avoid a planetary emergency, we must keep 80% of our known fossil fuel reserves in the ground and commit to no longer exploring for any more oil or gas. We must become a fossil-fuel free society by 2050, little over three decades away. To achieve this in Ireland, we have only a short window of time left to make the decisions in our transport, energy and agricultural sectors necessary for such a dramatic transition.

That means that our 32nd Dáil has some significant decisions to make in the next five years to transition to a low-carbon society, and it must involve Irish citizens in those decisions to guarantee success.

The challenge of achieving the low-carbon transition remained marginal to political debates throughout the 2016 general election campaign, further underlining the importance of the call for a citizens’ convention to raise public awareness of the issue and to generate momentum for policies to address the immense challenge of reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions at the scale and speed necessary under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now, as a new government is formed, we anxiously await the formation of this citizens’ convention to join the leap away from fossil fuels and toward a Post-Carbon Ireland.

To join the call for a Citizens’ Convention toward a Post-Carbon Ireland, see www.postcarbonireland.org. For more on the Leap Manifesto, see www.leapmanifesto.org and www.CaraAugustenborg.com

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