Irish Examiner View: Ruling on climate sham is seismic

Irish Examiner View: Ruling on climate sham is seismic
The Government's National Mitigation Plan “falls a long way short” of the specificity the 2015 act requires, the chief justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, declared.

It is sometimes more than difficult to align the parallel universes that make up our world; so many situations, perceptions, or behaviours — and realities, too — are so in conflict that it is almost impossible to reconcile them.

Today, we report on an evolving spat between the Government and local councillors over Green Party plans to reduce the mileage rates the State pays to those who drive high-emission cars. This is an extension of the polluter-pays principle that defines the road-tax bands we are all, by choice, subject to. 

Any change may also cut mileage rates paid to civil or public servants, the benchmark for rates paid to local politicians. Indignation, though hardly principled indignation, can be anticipated, despite the universally recognised urgency around reducing carbon use.

Setting aside the hope, quaint as it may be, that politicians should lead by example on climate-collapse aversion policies, it is distressing, and all too revealing, that this kerfuffle comes just days after the Supreme Court, in a parallel universe of far greater import, dismissed, in the most forceful way, government plans to try to avert climate change.

Last Friday, a seven-judge court ruled that the National Mitigation Plan (2017-2022) is so lacking in detail, as to be unfit for purpose. It ruled the plan does not comply with Ireland’s obligations, under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, 2015, to give sufficient detail about how a low-carbon economy might be achieved by 2050. 

The Government must give “some realistic level of detail” about how it intends to meet the objective. The plan “falls a long way short” of the specificity the 2015 act requires, the chief justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, declared. We have, he said, though in formal terms, been given the mushroom treatment — kept in the dark and fed manure on how the greatest challenge of our time, and maybe any time, will be met. 

The plan, as offered, is so vague that it would be all but impossible to assess its impact so voters might make a reasonable judgement on its efficacy or the integrity and performance of its advocates.

The Friends of the Irish Environment, an organisation more used to the disdain of those discommoded by environmental or climate obligations, are to be congratulated for helping expose this ‘official Ireland’ sham. That congratulations is doubly justified, as the ruling means citizens’ rights to understand and evaluate government claims and legislation — transparency by another name — are vindicated. Detail must replace obfuscation.

The ruling is as welcome as it is significant, but it is unfortunate that it was delivered on the cusp of a bank holiday weekend and as the Dáil rose for summer. It may not get the attention it demands. The ruling requires a comprehensive response, and that will, rightly, be scrutinised vigorously. The Greens may have to press their coalition colleagues — both of whom ruled out reducing the national herd without having any scientific evidence — on the issue. However, if they press them as forcefully as local councillors will defend mileage rates, they will surely succeed.

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