Climate change - €100m gesture we were obliged to make

THIS has been a challenging week for Ireland, especially for those whose incomes were cut and for those trying to recover from floods.

Those who qualify under both headings deserve considerable sympathy.

In the face of these difficulties yesterday’s announcement that we are to contribute €100 million to help Third World countries cope with climate change may, on first impressions, seem out of kilter with the mood and capacity of the country. Some voices may suggest that the €100m would be better spent at home.

The contribution may even, as tempers are frayed, dredge up one of the least attractive phrases in English, one that does us no credit: “Charity begins at home.” That would be unfortunate, short-sighted and wrong.

Firstly, making a €100m contribution to a €7 billion, three-year, EU project has little enough to do with charity. It is a minimal, 11th hour gesture motivated by self preservation.

Secondly, we have committed as yet untold billions to the banks, the wretched, insatiable banks, but only a fraction of that to try to save the planet that represents the only future available to our children. It may just be possible that we have our priorities skewed on this.

Especially when you consider that we borrow more or less €500m a week to pay the housekeeping bills.

It was entirely appropriate that the €100m announcement came on the day Environment Minister John Gormley published a framework for a Climate Change Bill. The legislation introduces a statutory requirement to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Sadly, it emerged yesterday that the reduction in emissions is not happening as quickly as was hoped.

The EPA recorded a decrease of only 1% in emissions in 2008 over 2007. This falls well short of the Programme for Government target of a 3% annual reduction. In academic terms achieving just a third of the marks available for an exam would be classified as a failure. There is no other way to regard our inability to wean ourselves off our addiction to carbon fuels.

This cultural block, this suicidal double think was confirmed in a recent Eurobarometer poll on attitudes to climate change.

Some 82% of Irish people believe climate change is a “serious problem”, yet only one in three are willing to pay for greener energy. We are, the survey revealed, committed to trying to prevent environmental catastrophe as long as it costs nothing and does not prevent us exploiting natural resources as if they were limitless. There are very few conclusions, none of them uplifting, possible if any serious thought is given to these findings.

Earlier this week, on the most desperate of Budget days, there was a recognition that we are all in this together. Only €25m was cut from our overseas aid budget, which will be €671m next year. This represents 0.52% of GNP, maintaining the level expected this year.

Though this can never be enough these are significant figures for a small, more or less broke country.

It does not seem logical to make any contributions to overseas aid unless we become far more effective at reducing our contributions to climate change. If we, all of the developed world, don’t change the development aid we can muster will make little or no difference in the face of climate change.


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