We face a climate scenario where all bets are off for humanity

The European Commission will impose fines on us for busting our renewables and emissions targets. We may pay out €3bn in fines over the next decade, writes Victoria White.

WE’RE staring down the barrel of 2020 and our greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 1% when they should be reduced by 20%.

We haven’t a chance of meeting our 2020 target.

Starting sometime next year, the European Commission will impose fines on us for busting our renewables target and later, fines for busting our emissions targets. We may pay out €3bn in fines over the next decade.

We now have just over a decade to lower our emissions by 30% below 2005 levels.

Meeting that 2030 target is among the most important things we have ever done as a nation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has until about that year to make massive cuts in our global greenhouse gas emissions or we will face runaway climate change. This is a scenario in which all bets are off for mankind.

We must start right now, in the first days of 2019, to have any hope of meeting our 2030 target.

I asked a number of experts for their suggestions as to what we should do this year to start the step-change we must make if we are to meet our climate commitments.

Here are some of their ideas:

1: Close Moneypoint power station immediately. This would reduce our emissions by 5% overnight. We don’t even need this coal-fired station: It’s been closed for three months for technical reasons since and few of us have been any the wiser.

The station is scheduled for closure in 2025, but with difficult reductions so hard to make, we need to close it now. That would save us about 4m tonnes of carbon emissions every year, 24 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2025.

2: Close all peat-fired power stations immediately, which, with the closure of Moneypoint, would reduce our emissions by over 10%. On no account should the Government continue to subsidise our three peat-fired stations if they are co-fired with biomass. Biomass is imported timber logged from valuable forests and their importation has a large carbon footprint. Our bogs are a vital carbon sink and we can’t lose another inch of them.

3: Bord na Móna’s rural-based workers should be reskilled to deep retrofit at least 5,000 homes. The Government’s National Development Plan commits to the retrofitting of 45,000 homes by 2021. Last year, it retrofitted about 100. If they completed 5,000 retrofitted homes this year, that would still leave them deep retrofitting 20,000 homes in 2020 and another 20,000 in 2021.

It is suggested that we should start with local authority-owned homes. Once we move to private dwellings, one suggestion is that should start in rural Ireland, where construction workers are more available and, indeed, where job losses from peat-related industries will hit harder. Rural houses are also easier to deep retro-fit because there are more standalone houses with drives which can take a charging point for an electric car, a heat pump, exterior insulation, and solar panels. Our low-carbon energy system will be largely run on electricity, generated cleanly from renewable sources, using houses and cars to store energy when the wind is blowing hardest.

4: Increase the carbon tax to €20 a tonne and continue the increases to until the tax stands at €80 or more. This would make all use of fossil fuels more expensive, including home heat and driving. A way of making this a just transition would be to redistribute the carbon tax as a dividend to every adult in the State. This would be a form of redistribution because less advantaged people use fewer resources and will pay less carbon tax but they will get the same dividend.

It seems like a wacky idea but it is under consideration in Canada and Leo Varadkar said he was “well disposed” to the idea in the Dáil in last November, if the opposition would commit to it with him. So there you go, boys and girls, you know what you have to do.

5: Install a minimum of 500 fast charging points for electric vehicles. Oblige every car-park owner/developer with space for a set number of cars to install a percentage of charge points. Oblige every petrol station to install charging points.

6: Commit to fewer cars by encouraging creative car pooling in urban areas and stopping the planned widening of approach roads to Dublin. We don’t need to incentivise cars to drive to Dublin. The place is already gridlocked.

7: Commit to ensuring all new public transport is electric or at least hybrid.

8: Commit to radical investment in cycling and walking to account for 20% of the transport budget as recommended by the UN, rather than the 0.3% we are currently spending. Our transport emissions are climbing at 4% a year, mostly from private cars and yet 56% of the transport budget is going to roads.

The policy-makers need to do a handbrake turn on this one. One suggestion is to start with massive investment in safe routes to schools. This would reduce congestion, as 30% of morning rush hour traffic is accounted for by school runs. It would also start the step-change in habits where they will last longest, in the young.

9: We need to reduce the national herd of cattle but we also need a just transition for farmers. Our Government must work to influence the new EU Common Agricultural Policy to divert payments to farmers away from carbon-intensive production and towards the protection of biodiversity. Beef production does not actually earn farmers any money except EU subsidies. Subsidies must be directed away from farming activity which causes harmful emissions.

One suggestion at the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change was to impose a carbon tax on meat and dairy but to redistribute the money to farmers for being climate-friendly custodians of the land.

If agriculture is allowed to continue increasing its emissions the taxpayer will be paying fines to the EU, in effect subsidising still further unsustainable farming practices.

10: Enact the Waste Reduction Bill straight-away. This bill, which would ban single use plastic containers and cutlery and introduce deposits on plastic and glass bottles and cans, has been sitting before the Government for 18 months. They say they are awaiting a full costing of the bill but the delay has gone way past a joke.

Each plastic bottle took a third of a litre of oil to produce. We are only recycling a third of our plastic and the result is obvious everywhere you look, in our rivers and parks, on our roadsides and beaches. We are choking on plastic as surely as the unfortunate sea creatures which swallow the stuff. Getting rid of it is an easy win which has huge popular support. If the Government doesn’t do even that you’d have to feel nervous about their commitment to leading the step-change we need starting from now if we Irish are to stop being climate laggards and start, from this year, being leaders.

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