Stepehn Cadogan: Time to get to grips with our food-wasting habits

Ireland generates two tonnes of food waste every minute, said Communications, Climate Action and Environment Minister Denis Naughten last week, as he outlined climate change mitigation and adaptation steps to reduce greenhouse gases, aiming for a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally-sustainable economy by the end of 2050.

He revealed that Ireland is the fifth worst country in Europe for food waste, and said he will shortly announce an initiative in addition to the existing Stop Food Waste programme for householders and businesses to reduce food waste.

It’s an obvious climate change mitigation area to target, and just one of the options which those trying to make a living need not fear.

Many vested interests will resist climate change mitigation because they fear their businesses will be damaged, farmers not least among them.

But that need not be the case.

For example, Minister Naughten said a radical way to address the transport challenges would be to reduce the need to travel in the first instance.

Transport emissions are of great concern, having increased by 9% in the last three years.

But, by allowing people to work from home and in their own communities, thereby removing the need for long commutes, the national broadband plan can reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Instead of fearing climate change mitigation measures, farmers can inspire others.

Farmers will be horrified to hear from the Minister that in Ireland, we discard four fifths of everything we produce, after one use. We recycle just 1g out of every 100g of valuable rare earth resources that are in products.

The Minister says we have to treat waste as a resource, because using fewer resources means less energy needs to be produced, and fewer emissions are discharged.

Waste as a resource is highly valued in Ireland, with effluent from our livestock population fully utilised as fertiliser, for example.

Rural Ireland can play a huge role in renewable electricity, for which a new support scheme is being developed (including solar farms), with an allocation of €7 million promised to kick-start a new renewable heat incentive and the biofuels industry.

A sustainable biomass industry, led by Bord na Móna and Coillte, is on course to become a major rural climate change mitigator.

At the other end of the energy wires, more energy-efficient homes, schools, hospitals and public sector buildings and lighting, will all play their roles in mitigating climate change.

The message from the Minister for climate change non-believers is that there is incontrovertible evidence that global warming is threatening human life, and we are not immune in Ireland.

Our winters will become wetter and summers drier, with potential for summer heat waves and coastal inundation by rising seas, and storm surge events.

Increased river catchment flows will have obvious flooding consequences.

Further impacts include a heightened risk of water shortages in summer, increased risk of new pests and diseases, poor water quality, and changes in the types of plants and animals.

He also considered the question: “How can any one country, especially a small country, make a difference? How can any one of us make a meaningful contribution?”

When it comes to climate change, it is a pressing fact that the world cannot change without us, he concluded.

But it is equally true that Ireland’s constrained investment capacity since 2008, during the troika programme, and under EU fiscal governance requirements, has hindered Ireland’s climate change mitigation.

We will not meet our 2020 target — not least because European Union fiscal governance requirements prevent us from borrowing for climate mitigation investment, so we are missing out on the current cheap national borrowing opportunities.


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