The 29 environmentalists, engineers and political scientists from seven universities say despite being the most critical threat facing the country, climate change is not being addressed in the main parties’ manifestos.
They are calling for a citizens’ convention on climate change to be established by the next government, similar to the Constitutional Convention from 2012-2014, or the citizen’s convention Fine Gael has pledged on repealing the eighth amendment.
A new website, www.postcarbonireland.org went live yesterday and will record each party’s response to their call. It also has an online petition which members of the public are being asked to sign to show support.
Professor Barry McMullin of Dublin City University said the momentum of the Paris Agreement on climate change last December was in danger of being lost.
“The message that seems to have come from it is that it was a success and so that means we can stop worrying about it but, of course, what it really means is now we know the scale of the challenge and now we have to play our part, so this should be part of the election conversation.”
The group say tough decisions will have to be made that will challenge agricultural practices, the predominance of private cars over public transport, the cost of flood defences to preserve one-off dwellings and the resistance to wind turbines.
“The political system compels politicians to take a short-term view but here we have a challenge that requires long-term thinking,” Prof McMullin said.
“Politicians will say they can only act if they have the support of the public but people can only [back] them if they are given the opportunity to engage.”
The group envisage the Citizen’s Convention for a Post-Carbon Ireland as a forum for a non-political national conversation lasting up to three years.
Prof John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth said: “It’s an attempt to bring the scientific realities of climate change to the population of Ireland and to make them aware of the choices that we face as a country, especially for our children in the years ahead.
“The fodder crisis cost us €500m. The flooding this winter will probably cost as much. The cost of doing nothing is much more than doing something.”
They said, however, a convention should not be used as a stalling device to delay actions to reduce carbon emissions. Prof McMullin said one such action should be a moratorium on peat extraction and shale gas and oil exploration here. “We already have four times more reserves of fossil fuel in the world than we can use if we mean what we say about reducing carbon emissions.”