Ireland playing it cool when it comes to climate change

Ireland will fail to reach its 2020 EU emission reduction targets and needs to act if it is to do its ‘fair share’ in line with the Paris Agreement, writes Cara Augustenborg.

ONE year ago this week, 196 countries agreed to tackle climate change at the United Nations summit in Paris.

While this historic moment deserved to be celebrated, each country’s proposed greenhouse gas emission reductions were not enough to achieve the ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5C below pre-industrial temperatures.

In fact, their promises still leave us with over three degrees of warming by the end of the century, well above levels considered safe for human civilisation.

Over the past 12 months, small signs of hope for the future of our climate have appeared:

  • A new global agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons will result in 0.5C less warming by the end of the century;
  • The aviation industry unveiled plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • China’s carbon dioxide emissions declined consecutively over the last three years;
  • India’s large-scale investment in renewable energy positioned it to achieve its emission reductions targets under the Paris Agreement;
  • Morocco and Nepal voluntarily proposed more ambitious emission reductions following the Paris Climate Summit;
  • The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative was launched to provide 10 gigawatts of renewable energy to the continent by 2020 and a staggering 300 gigawatts by 2030;
  • Globally, the amount of carbon needed to power the economy fell to record lows in 2015, marking a historic step change in decoupling of the burning of fossil fuels from economic growth.

When I attended the UN Climate Summit last year, Ireland was amid some of the Midlands’ worst flooding on record. Nearly every minister in the country stood beside flood waters expressing concern for victims and declaring we could expect more of this due to climate change. We were change ready, but, one year later, Ireland has done nothing to translate our intention into action. In fact, Ireland’s emissions are still 4% above 1990 levels, when we first agreed to the UN’s Kyoto Protocol to address climate change.

The EPA reports we will fail to reach our 2020 EU emission reduction targets, with the transport sector alone projected to increase emissions between 13% and 19% between now and 2020.

Our government ministers travelled to Brussels last summer to renegotiate the baseline for Ireland’s EU 2030 emissions reduction targets, so there is an incentive to increase emissions until 2018, practically eliminating hope of Ireland doing its “fair share” to address climate change in the meantime.

We’ve returned to Celtic Tiger housing policies that incentivise the purchase of new homes and encourage urban sprawl and longer commutes.

Our renewed economic growth has created the worst congestion on our largest motorway to date, yet Transport Minister Shane Ross failed to allocate more than 1% of the transport budget to cycling infrastructure this year.

We increased the purchase of dirty coal for our power stations from 2014. We continue to subsidise the burning of peat, the dirtiest of fossil fuels and our most precious carbon sink.

To cap it all, we have not devised a national strategy to address climate change since the last one expired in 2012.

The only positive thing the Government has done for climate action since the Paris Climate Summit was to include the words “climate action” in the title of Minister Naughten’s Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment, and (through heroic efforts by civil society) to unanimously support a bill to ban fracking in Ireland.

While it was a huge relief to address fracking on the same day Ireland ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, banning a non-existent practice in Ireland does nothing toward reducing our current existing greenhouse gas emissions.

At the ongoing climate negotiations in Marrakesh, the world is gearing up for action to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement.

To date, Ireland has failed to demonstrate any action in line with those ambitious aims.

The Government must show it is ready to act.

Otherwise, Ireland will be left in the dust as the world charts its path toward achieving the greatest transformation since the Industrial Revolution.

Cara Augustenborg is an environmental scientist, climate lecturer at University College Dublin, and chairperson of Friends of the Earth Ireland. She blogs the award-winning ‘Verdant Yank’ on www.caraaugustenborg.com. Follow her experience at the UN Climate Summit in Marrakesh on Twitter @CAugustenborg.


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