Inaction on climate change criticised by Mary Robinson

Former President of Ireland and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson has criticised Bord na Mona for not being ambitious enough in its deadline for shutting down peat production.

Mrs Robinson said she believed the company could end harvesting of peat — which she described as “the worse of fossil fuels” — before its 2028 target.

“The motives to end our peat harvesting activities are indisputable,” she said. “Peat generates less energy per tonne than coal and produces higher CO2 emissions per unit. Burning it is an inefficient and polluting way to create energy.

There’s no economic argument for maintaining peat as a fuel source or subsidising its production.

She added that the sector received €115m in subsidies to generate peat-fired electricity in 2016 alone.

However, while urging the company to bring forward its targets, she also insisted no worker employed in the industry should be left behind.

Calling for a “just transition” to clean alternative industry, Mrs Robinson said: “The need for an urgent end to peat extraction mustn’t undermine the rights of the communities whose lives are dependent on it.

“There needs to be a long-term strategy in place that ensures the rights and dignity of the people whose lives are impacted by this transition.,” she said. “With the right support from the Government and through partnership with workers and unions, Bord na Mona has the opportunity to plan and deliver a just transitional strategy.”

She said the company should plan to create 400-500 replacement jobs for the Midlands, investing in re-skilling and training in the workers while enabling those close to retirement to have early access to their pensions if they chose.

“As Bord na Mona moves to seize the opportunity it sees in its renewable and its fossil fuel-free future, parallel efforts must ensure that the workers are supported in finding the path to their future too,” she said.

Mrs Robinson, who was last week appointed chair of international human rights group The Elders, was speaking at a conference jointly organised by the French Embassy in Ireland, Trinity College, Trócaire, and the Institute of International and European Affairs to mark two years since the Paris Agreement on climate change was ratified.

Caoimhe de Barra, chief executive of Trócaire, criticised the Government’s lack of ambition on reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions.

“It’s already too late for many of the communities we are working in,” she said.

Much as we have tremendous support from the Irish Government for our work and much as we see the overseas development aid budget increasing — and we’re very grateful for that — but at the same time, how are we performing on climate change?

“If Ireland doesn’t pull together and change our policy around climate change, we are potentially doing more damage to the people and communities that we’re working in than we could ever hope to resolve through our sustainable agriculture and livelihoods programmes.”

Ireland has undertaken to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 but is on course to achieve only a 1% reduction.

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