VICTORIA WHITE: Failure to address carbon tax in budget fails to future-proof anything

I kept coming back to the image of two old fellas sitting on bar stools chatting away about future-proofing the economy without noticing that the fourth wall of the pub had already fallen over the cliff.

The rest of the pub was sure to follow sending them rocketing over the cliff unless they looked up and took urgent action. But they didn’t. They didn’t even increase the derisory carbon tax in the budget.

Despite my natural cynicism, the Government parties and Fianna Fáil have managed to leave me dumbfounded.

I don’t know whether Leo Varadkar’s Cabinet and his Fianna Fáil aiders and abetters understand the science of climate change or not.

Maybe they don’t. But then again, surely they can read?

As if to help their budget decisions, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report was published on Monday, before the Government had finalised their decision not to increase the carbon tax.

They didn’t even have to read the whole thing, as I have done, because it’s the best service I can offer in this column.

They could just have picked out a few headlines, such as the one which says we are currently on course for a rise in global temperatures of between three and four degrees by 2100, with the potential of further warming thereafter.

Such a rise in temperatures will wipe out millions of people through famine, pestilence, and flooding because, as the report, says: “Climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.”

Many of us have children who will probably be around in 2100. What horrors has our generation and the last unleashed on them and their children?

We will probably have some idea if we hang around until 2040, a timescale for which our Government has just released a development plan which was not climate-proofed at all.

This week’s IPCC report says if we keep going as we are, we will have a 1.5 degree rise in temperature at that point.

Those of us who are middle-aged now are going to have a fairly uncomfortable old age.

This is what makes Paschal Donohoe’s blather about “future-proofing” the economy so astonishing and so scary, not to speak of the unfortunate phrase “rainy day fund”.

We’re going to have rainy days like Paschal has never seen before. We’re going to have droughts like we’ve never experienced and storms which blow us to eternity.

I hope Paschal’s “rainy day fund” is up to the task, don’t you?

Except I don’t think Paschal has those kind of rainy days in mind. His idea of an existential threat is a disorderly Brexit.

A disorderly Brexit will be terrible for us all and especially terrible for farmers.

Sadly, it will be nothing, absolutely nothing, compared with what climate change will unleash on them.

The only light on the horizon is that lots of people are furious and, for once, journalists are asking questions. The Government’s answers have been all over the place.

The Taoiseach boasted on Prime Time that he was part of the Government which had brought in the carbon tax in 2015, a claim which is simply untrue.

The carbon tax was introduced in 2009 and expanded in 2013.

He breezily announced that increasing the tax as a hard winter set in and Brexit loomed wasn’t advisable when it is clear that what is really looming for Varadkar is a general election.

Donohoe countered close questioning by Philip Bouchier-Hayes on RTÉ Radio with the boast that he was not afraid to make hard decisions and had increased the Vat rate on hospitality. Fair play to Bouchier-Hayes, who asked if Donohoe thought the VAT rate on hospitality was equal in importance to the future of human life on the planet? Donohoe got a new hymn sheet before going on Prime Time, some blather about committing to increasing carbon tax in the future “as part of a plan”.

We have had plans. We have no time for more.

It is the finding in the IPCC report that we have not so far emitted enough carbon to destroy our climate beyond a further rise of maybe half a degree and that it is the emissions of the immediate future which are going to destroy us. That’s what makes Tuesday’s budget decision on carbon tax so outrageous.

The IPCC report makes clear that carbon prices must be much higher in order to give the planet any hope of keeping to a 1.5 degree rise in temperature which will already be extremely challenging.

The think tanks funded by the Government have said they want the carbon tax to begin a steep rise.

In the opinion of John Fitzgerald, Head of the Climate Change Advisory Council, the tax should rise gradually from its current €20 per tonne to €80 per tonne by 2030.

The ERSI studied the impact of increases in the carbon tax this year and came up with the finding that even a €20 increase in the tax would have a “small impact” on fuel poverty. Surely this “impact” could be addressed by way of the fuel allowance?

The people most impacted by rising carbon taxes were found to be the better-off because they use a lot more petrol and diesel to move around.

The ERSI also found that an increased carbon tax would make small but serious inroads into our appalling emissions levels, which will cost us massive fines when we become one of two EU countries to bust our 2020 emissions targets, struggling to reduce by 1%when it should be 20%.

They found that a €5 increase in the tax would reduce transport emissions by 2.5% and a €20 increase would reduce them by 10%. Emissions from peat and from the carbon intensive side of agriculture would also reduce significantly.

Overall, a doubling of the carbon tax would led to a 4.8% reduction in our emissions without impacting our citizens very much.

It would pose no risk to our competitiveness and would incentivise

the development of low-carbon technology.

It’s fairly clear that the Independent Alliance regard the static carbon tax as their reward for accepting the increased Vat on hospitality, as dirty a deal as was ever done to pass a budget.

Meanwhile Michael M Grath has steadfastly refused to say if Fianna Fáil are in favour of increasing the carbon tax, as his party reaches ever lower in populism’s bargain basket.

They are sickening, the whole lot of them. They either do not know or do not care to know what horrors are facing our children and their children if we fail to act to save life on this planet, our only home.

The only positive of this horror show is that it leaves as little doubt about Fine Gael’s refusal to act against climate change as there is that climate change is man-made.

It is up to those of us who believe 99% of the world’s leading scientists to act for change in every way we can.


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