We need to get serious about climate change

We need to get serious about climate change

The Government needs to make a resolution that 2019 will be the year we finally get serious about climate change.

It has in recent days put forth options to meet environmental targets, with Environment Minster Richard Bruton announcing a crackdown on single-use plastics among other measures.

However, just like many New Year’s resolutions, the Government has often talked the talk on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions; it has rarely walked the walk.

It is clear that citizens may well wish for a cleaner environment, though they seem very reluctant to accept the measures needed to achieve it.

The recent Climate Change Performance Index, launched at the Climate Conference in Poland, named Ireland the worst performing European country at tackling climate change. Ireland is a “very low performing” country, the worst category on the list.

Ireland is not alone in failing to live up to its responsibility on climate change; the Climate Conference has shown that the world is not doing enough to mitigate the effects of greenhouse emissions on the environment.

There are humanitarian and moral reasons reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and there are also purely self-interested and transactional reasons.

Ireland has failed miserably to meet the target of 20% reduction in emissions by 2020 compared to 2005. We will have reduced emissions by a paltry 1% over that period. This will mean EU fines of hundreds of millions of euro, and it is difficult to be optimistic about Ireland hitting its 2030 targets.

A holistic approach to meeting our commitments is needed. In transport, we need to reduce our dependency on cars.

This is more than simply the introduction of a carbon tax on fuel, though such a carbon tax is essential. There will be claims that this will have a larger impact on rural dwellers. Of course it will. That is because we have allowed excessive sprawl through bad planning. There is a cost imposed on society from sprawl, just as urban dwellers pay higher living costs.

Beyond a carbon tax we also need to disincentive car use by charging more for parking, including in suburban shopping centres, making it inconvenient to bring cars into the city, and by reducing the tax costs of buying and running electric cars.

We need to invest in public transport alternatives. In the cities, there is a greater need for safer cycling. Such behavioural changes take time to generate their full benefits, though there will be immediate health and environmental benefits.

However, the short-term investment, and discomfort for those used to having a car under them, is needed now to produce a generational shift in attitudes.

There are implications for our planning process and how we organise our communities. We need to reduce sprawl and increase urban density.

Ireland is focusing a lot of attention on renewable energy. This is important, but exploiting renewable energies will not be sufficient without action in other areas.

Our reluctance to do what needs to be done on climate change is most obvious when we see objections to wind farms. These are vital infrastructures. However, the combination of political clientelism and not-in-my-backyardism is hampering efforts on this form of renewable energy.

By failing to meet our targets on climate change we pass the costs to future generations, who will face the costs of coping with more frequent extreme weather events.

The opportunity to mitigate climate change will be gone. We need to take real and difficult measures now.

Declan Jordan is director of the Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre in UCC

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