Emission targets badly missed: Our culture of delusion must change

Last year we celebrated one of the foundation events of this Republic. During the year some people questioned the validity and outcomes of 1916. Those reservations were drowned like a litter of unwanted pups in a sea of flag-waving and cheers. 

Emission targets badly missed: Our culture of delusion must change

Doubters were dismissed by green orthodoxy. That aversion to comprehensive, objective assessment has become our default position so it is not surprising that we have embraced an image of ourselves that may not be widely recognised beyond these shores.

We present ourselves a modern, progressive society with high ideals informed by imagination, energy and pragmatism. We, after all, voted for marriage equality.

Unfortunately, assessment after assessment suggests this idea is self-deception on a grand scale. Another was published yesterday and its findings are, at first reading, just embarrassing.

However, unless you are one of the flat-earthers who bravely dismisses the majority of the world’s climate scientists, the findings quickly become chastening, worrying and hugely challenging.

The Environmental Protection Agency warned we will miss our 2020 EU obligations — legally binding and with potential for severe sanctions — to reduce greenhouse gas emission by a spectacular margin.

We must cut 2005 levels by 20% by 2020 but the EPA predicts emissions will be only 4%-6% below that benchmark by then. By any criteria, those figures represent recklessness and failure.

Apart from showing how very unreliable we are as a partner in any programme to try to limit climate change — or EU defence, remember we’re neutral! — it is an indication that we are likely to face severe financial penalties. It also suggests that achieving subsequent targets will be far more difficult than it need be.

Coming just days after we decided we need not pay for water and that OECD figures showed this remains, despite struggling public services, a low-income tax country, the EPA report places us firmly in the delinquent society category.

We achieve that badge of dishonour without having to refer to a dysfunctional health system, an imploding police force, a housing crisis, myriad abuse scandals, ongoing dependency on imported energy, etc, etc.

To put our failure — betrayal would be more honest — in context, Copenhagen is moving rapidly toward a zero-carbon future. The city has built windfarms, transformed its citywide heating systems, promoted energy efficiency, and encourages people to abandon cars and use public transport — a sector challenged strongly to do more by the EPA — or bicycles.

More than a third of journeys in the Danish capital are made on bicycle and more than 20,000 cyclists enter the city at peak hours, filling Copenhagen’s 400km of cycle lanes. Unobtrusive, cutting-edge facilities use waste heat from power plants to keep homes or businesses warm via the world’s largest district heating network.

These are just a few of the measures designed to make Copenhagen the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. If Copenhagen, and many other cities, can prepare for the future with such honesty and confidence, if that capital of just 570,000 people can do these things why can’t Dublin or any other Irish city?

One of the projects that will have the greatest impact on Irish greenhouse gas emissions is Food Harvest 2020 which envisages increasing 2010 levels of milk production by 50% and adding 20% to the value of the beef sector. That threat has been recognised by Government as it sought the inevitable derogations from the EU.

Even if Brexit, and the prospect of punitive tarriffs, challenge those plans they stand in stark contrast to the Dutch government’s decision to order a cull of around 160,000 animals from their dairy herd because expansion facilitated by ending milk quotas just two years ago threatened their water security and quality.

All around the Western world there is a feeling that progress has stopped, that we are slipping backwards. One commentator has, chillingly, said we are no long in a post-war world but in pre-war world.

All of these failures feed into that darkening mood but but each one can be resolved and, though it may be the 11th hour, it’s not too late for us to realise that we must. The EPA, like those who dared question 1916, is to be congratulated on persistently warning us about the deep, dark hole we are digging for ourselves.

Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that this hugely important report was published on the eve of bank holiday weekend when it will be lost, or drowned, in another sea of flag waving and cheers.

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