Many years ago, when the full scale of the institutionalised child sexual abuse became apparent, we recoiled in horror and shame. Our betrayal of the most vulnerable was so great we were transfixed; caught like rabbits in headlights, we could not turn away from but knew we had to if our obligation to protect the weakest was to have any integrity. As our initial shock eased, international news organisations came to report on how the island of saints and scholars had become the island of child rape and torture. We were, again, horrified but this time at how those we saw as our peers saw us. The appalling facts meant we had to wait for the storm to pass. Our indignation had to be silent.
We have not reached that point on climate change yet, but the moment when news teams come here to try to discover why we are suicidally backward on climate collapse cannot be too far away. Their brief will be simple: Explain how a rich country, one that imagines itself caring and well-educated, can be ranked worst in EU on climate action and, in a shaming double whammy, be graded among worst in the world. Those news teams will try to understand why a society whose affluence was built on EU solidarity is such an outlier indifferent to the gloomy warnings of today’s scientists.
The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2019 found our efforts to reduce carbon emissions “will not enable Ireland to achieve either its EU 2020 or 2030 targets” — we are more than a decade off the pace. The review looked at 56 countries to see if actions and commitments meet Paris Accord promises. The CCPI is published by Germanwatch, the NewClimate Institute, and the Climate Action Network, and is seen as the most reliable climate performance assessment published each year. Published at the UN climate summit in Poland yesterday, its findings “results in a very low rating for Ireland’s national policy performance”. Sweden was ranked best on 76.28. Britain eighth on 65.92. The EU average was 60.65, but we scored just 40.84, two-thirds of the EU average, condemning us to 48th-out-of-56 ignominy.
There is a parallel between our indifference to climate collapse and the child abuse scandals. We, in our heart of hearts, knew that something was amiss in those institutions but we looked away until it was no longer possible to do so. It is the same with climate change. Anyone who cares to see will be outraged by Food Harvest 2025 and doubly outraged that millions of taxpayers’ euros are used to greenwash it; anyone who cares to see will be outraged that 200 diesel buses will be bought by the State to beat next July’s ban on diesel-only buses in urban areas. The list is long and shameful but it’s worse than that. It suggests we have not learned that reality can be deferred for only so long. It is not to diminish the hurt felt by those abused in institutions to point out that they were a small percentage of our population — unlike the 100% of Irish people open to the inevitable impact of climate change.
This report must be seen as almost a final warning and we must radically intensify our climate change programme in a way we have not yet imagined. The situation is that serious and the time is that short. There is hardly a day to be wasted.