Taoiseach’s lack of commitment on climate targets is shameful

We may be a small brick in the wall against climate change but if we fall we destabilise the structure, writes Victoria White
Taoiseach’s lack of commitment on climate targets is shameful

HOW wrong I was when I said here last week that Irish people got what they voted for when it came to action on climate change! The Irish people didn’t vote for shame and that’s what they’ve got at the COP21 conference in Paris.

What a national humiliation it was on Tuesday to hear our Taoiseach telling the assembled nations of Earth that the climate challenge requires action from countries “big and small”, before moving swiftly on to the voodoo which will lead to “carbon neutrality in the land sector that does not compromise our capacity for food production”.

Then to hear his comments to Irish journalists “off-piste” that the 20% reductions in emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels — an EU requirement to which the previous government committed — were “unrealistic” and “unreachable”: “We do not want to see a situation where we are limited in what we can produce with the abolition of quotas, to find that food is produced in countries with inferior standards and higher emission levels.”

Pardon the pun, but that’s bull. Yes, we can reduce emissions per kilo of meat and dairy. But we also have to change our land use, our export patterns, and our eating habits or we will become “the laughing stock of Europe” to use a well-worn phrase. But we won’t be laughing ourselves because we will be paying out billions in environmental fines.

Airtricity founder Eddie O’Connor hit the nail on the head yesterday when warning the Government against taking a “sleeveen” approach to the climate negotiations. He said we should not be seeking “derogations” which is exactly the negotiating position our Taoiseach talked up yesterday when he said that “hard bargaining” would take place over the coming weeks to make sure our goals were “fair and reasonable”.

The insider word on what the Taoiseach means by “fair” is an emissions reduction of between 23% and 25% by 2030 as against Britain, France, and Germany, who will offer 40%. I don’t know how you can possibly call that “fair”. It’s precisely the “me, me, me ” attitude which COP21 has seemed to overcome thus far in favour of the first stirrings of genuine global co-operation in world history.

Generosity on a global scale will be needed if we are to survive with any comfort on this planet. We may be a small brick in the wall against climate change but if we fall we destabilise the structure, opening the door to more special pleading.

It is grotesque to listen to Ireland, out with its begging bowl while over a billion people still live in extreme poverty, often greatly exacerbated by the climate effects of the carbon which the rich world emits. Even as the Government trumpets exchequer returns running €3bn ahead of target.

“Despite recent difficult economic circumstances”, whined the Taoiseach, Ireland has committed €34m to help poor countries adapt to climate change in 2014, and is committed to “scaling up” this support to €175m to 2020. But this is not new money. It is money already committed to Irish Aid. Do the maths. Multiply the €34m to 2020 and you will see how much extra there is.

The Taoiseach also announced that we would begin contributing to the global “Green Climate Fund” in 2016 with a princely donation of €2m for 2016 and no firm commitment to any other year when we need to contribute €45m to 2020 if we are to get to the European average.

Some of this €2m is money which was put aside at the height of the recession by the last Government to purchase carbon credits which we did not need because our emissions went down. Our emissions went down for two reasons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency: Because of the recession and because of our increased use of renewable energy.

Possibly the most outrageous thing the Taoiseach said in Paris — and the competition is fierce — was that our emissions had failed to decrease because of the recession. “We have lost a decade of investment in our country because of what happened,” he said. “That cannot be recovered, and until we have an economic engine to allow us change structures and continue to invest in research and innovation for more sustainable ways of doing agriculture, that presents us with a challenge.” Holy God, even I thought we’d heard the last of “It’s not my fault, blame them”.

I certainly never imagined the recession would be blamed for increasing emissions when it was one of two reasons for decreased emissions. This is made clear by the fact that emissions are going up again under the Taoiseach’s watch, with next to nothing being done to replace dirty energy with clean energy.

The Government has locked us into 15 more years of burning peat in Edenderry, Loughrea, and Shannonbridge. By the time we have finished burning peat, there will be hardly any left, meaning it can’t regenerate itself and can’t act as a “carbon sink”. Meanwhile the burning of filthy coal continues unabated at Moneypoint.

And it is only the tireless efforts of activists such as the Good Energy Alliance, Love Leitrim, and Friends of the Earth which are holding fracking at arm’s length.

Alex White, the natural resources minister, and the Environmental Protection Agency were questioned yesterday by the joint Oireachtas committee on transport and communications amid reports the Government’s study on fracking has been compromised by links with the gas and oil industries.

The desk research allowing fracking to begin is apparently almost complete. All that is missing is local research in Fermanagh, Leitrim, and Clare but thanks to local activism no tenders have yet been issued. Friends of the Earth’s Kate Ruddock said yesterday that the study does not even concern itself with the impact of fracked fuel on the climate and our ability to meet our internationally agreed targets.

We are on track to miss our 2020 emissions of a 20% reduction from 2005 levels, presenting instead a 5% reduction. The Government has no serious plan to reverse that trend.

The people are marching and the nations are communing. Industry is “dramatically shifting capital away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy”, according to 350.org, which announced yesterday in Paris that more than 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion in assets, including the cities of Oslo and Melbourne and Europe’s largest insurance company, Allianz, have committed to massive divestment of fossil fuel interests.

Meanwhile, we are shaping up to be the laggards of Europe, present-ing the elderly, conservative face of a sleeveen to the planet. And I don’t believe that even we deserve that.

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