Major protests, across the globe, spearheaded by the young, taking time off school to join protests, mostly with support from the older generation
Major Health Bodies support call for Active Travel to be an integral part of the forthcoming All of Government Climate Action Plan
The Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society, Diabetes Ireland, Irish Doctors for the Environment, the Association of Health Promotion Ireland, Professor Donal O’Shea (National Clinical Lead for Obesity and Hon. President of Cyclist.ie), and the Irish Pedestrian Network have signed an open letter from Cyclist.ie to the Taoiseach asking for concrete measures to facilitate active travel to form an integral part of the forthcoming All of Government Climate Action Plan.
The Department of Transport’s walking and cycling budget is increasing this year, but planned expenditure comes nowhere near the 10% level demanded by Cyclist.ie for cycling in its Pre-Budget Submission 2019 and endorsed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA). The ground-breaking report by the JOCCA makes a very strong case for active travel with the statement – “active travel measures are also among the most cost-effective emissions reduction strategies”. Our particular focus is how this needs to happen on health grounds. There is overwhelming evidence that lack of physical activity is a contributory cause in a host of debilitating chronic illnesses, including heart-disease, stroke, some cancers and diabetes. Hence the endorsement of the letter by all of the above health bodies. The forthcoming Climate Action Plan presents an opportunity to set targets for active travel which will contribute to reducing emissions and promoting health.
The recent IPCC report clearly spells out the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. To minimise environmental damage and fines arising from the failure to meet Ireland’s climate change targets, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must adopt much more ambitious climate actions than currently outlined
In Ireland’s draft EU mandated National Energy and Climate Plan there’s a failure to acknowledge the contribution that cycling can make in this regard.
See below for reports
Politicians and the public are paying attention to climate change like never before. We have the opportunity to make 2019 the year Ireland finally takes climate action seriously.
A special all-party Oireachtas committee is considering the far-reaching but practical recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly and will report at the end of January. The new minister, Richard Bruton, is promising a new all-of-Government climate action plan, modelled on the Action Plan for Jobs, that will lead to “a revolution in how we live”. So what should be in it?
A Just Transition Task Force
We have known for 20 years we have to stop burning coal and peat for electricity. We need a Just Transition Task Force now, with representatives from the unions, the ESB and Bord Na Móna, all the State agencies, NGOs like Irish Rural Link and local community development representatives. It needs the resources and authority to support affected workers, and their families and communities, to find new jobs and plan for a sustainable future for their region.
Moneypoint is closed now and has been for months, due to a fault. The lights are still on, proving we don’t need to burn coal even during peak winter demand. Serious consideration should be given to leaving Moneypoint offline. Coal provided just 12pc of our electricity in 2017 but more than 25pc of our climate pollution from electricity.
Peat is even worse, providing just 7pc of our electricity but producing 20pc of our pollution. We’ve been subsidising it to the tune of more than €100m a year. That direct subsidy ends in 2019, but Bord na Móna wants to keep burning peat for another 10 years, by co-firing its power plants with wood. We should wstop burning peat in 2020 and use the subsidies we save to support the affected workers and communities.
A payment for small-scale solar generation
Every school should have solar panels on their roofs, generating electricity and income. So should parish halls, sports clubs and farm buildings. It’s happening across Europe but doesn’t happen here because you have to give away power you don’t use to the ESB for free. Ireland does community-scale well, from Tidy Towns to GAA. We know there’s huge enthusiasm for community energy. We need to unlock that potential with a rooftop revolution that puts citizens at the heart of the energy transition.
An SSIA scheme for insulation, and a Tipperary Energy Agency for every county
We need to upgrade at least 100,000 homes a year between now and 2030. Houesholders are going to have to invest themselves, but the State has to make it attractive and simple. Something like the old SSIA scheme, for every €4 you invest in retrofitting your home, the State gives you €1.
But it’s not just a financial challenge, householders also need project management support to figure out what they need to get done and what contractor to trust to do it and at what price. The Tipperary Energy Agency has built up an unrivalled capability and reputation for doing that well in a way that appeals to people. We need to scale up the same capacity in every county in Ireland.
Transport is the area our pollution has risen fastest. We should implement the very simple Citizens’ Assembly recommendation that one-third of the transport budget should go on roads and two-thirds should go on public transport, cycling and walking, reversing the current ratio. We should implement the UN recommendation that 20pc of the budget should go on cycling and walking (less than 2pc does now), as that also tackles obesity and promotes healthy lifestyles.
These are two simple but essential policy tools we lack. The new climate and energy plan should come with two five-year carbon budgets, voted on by the Dáil. That’s simply the total amount of pollution Ireland will emit from 2021-2025 and 2026-2030.
Departments then negotiate within that for their share of the pie, just like the fiscal budget. At the moment there’s nothing to translate national targets into departmental discipline. Moreover, no Government policy that might affect our emissions should be adopted by Cabinet in the dark. It should run the numbers and estimate how much emissions will go up or down. That assessment should be in front of Cabinet when it makes the decision, and it should be published when it announces it.
A cheque in the post
We are going to need to increase the price on carbon, in line with the polluter pays principle. It will give a steady signal that every time we have a choice, choosing the less polluting option will save us money, as will investing in energy saving.
There are a number of ways to do carbon tax, but in an era when trust in politicians is low I favour the simplest, most transparent model, called “tax and dividend”, where 100pc of the tax revenue is given straight back as an equal flat lump sum to every man, woman and child in Ireland.
On average, poorer households spend less than richer households on polluting goods so the tax is a cash transfer from rich to poor. We all still face a price signal, polluting products get more and more expensive, but as we make the transition we protect those most vulnerable and those for whom less polluting choices are not readily available. So, in Budget 2020 the Dáil should vote for a €20 increase in the carbon tax and for a €5 increase every year after that. On January 1, 2020, we should all get our first carbon dividend cheque.
In Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, he worried we would go from denial to despair without stopping in the middle for action. That is the choice we face right now. But it’s an easy choice: who wouldn’t want a warmer home with lower bills, better public transport and healthier lifestyles, and a chance for your community to own the energy that will power the future? Oh, plus a decent shot at containing climate change enough to protect that future.
Let’s make 2019 the year we finally step up, and set off on a safer, healthier path.
Oisín Coghlan is director of Friends of the Earth, a member of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition
Sign up now to Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice on 5 December
Worried about climate change? Frustrated by the government’s inaction on active travel and other measures to tackle emissions? Eager to do something to get your TDs to take #ClimateActionNow?
Then join the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition in Buswells Hotel, Dublin, on Wednesday 5th December, for Rise for Climate, Jobs & Justice.
Cyclist.ie, a member of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition since 2016, will be participating on the day offering cycling as a real solution to transport climate pollution reduction through the #Allocate4Cycling campaign.
Register for this event and email your TDs to ask them to meet you at the event. A template is provided. You can add your own message about how cycling can help us meet our emissions targets:
Sounds great! But what should I talk to them about?
All you need to do is share your real concerns about climate change with your TDs. Tell them that as your elected representative, they and their party should do more to reduce Ireland’s emissions, and that we can’t go on being one of the worst polluters per person in Europe.
We took part in similar SCC hosted events previously and those who have participated have found them empowering. Plus, we know that TDs are impacted by meeting groups of their own constituents who care passionately about an issue. A few years ago, running a similar kind of lobby day secured the climate law. Now, we need an action plan that actually cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA’s projections, published today (here), reveal the colossal scale of Ireland’s collective political failure to rein in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with our legally binding EU and global commitments.
It is quite staggering to consider that instead of achieving the modest initial target of reducing our national GHG emissions by 20% versus 2005 levels, the EPA today confirms that “at best”, we will have only managed a negligible 1% emissions cut by 2020.
In terms of our performance on tackling the dangerous and rapidly escalating threats posed by climate change, Ireland has moved from being an outlier to, essentially, a rogue state on the international stage.
Introduction: This document is written as a high level background brief to inform discussions of the Citizen’s Assembly. The paper draws on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – especially the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which represents the latest consensus view of the scientific community. These reports are compiled by hundreds of scientists from across the world, who summarise developments and insights from the scientific literature published in peer reviewed journals. The report is signed off by all countries. The IPCC thus provide an authoritative assessment of our state of knowledge on all aspects of climate change. The subsequent sections of this brief are organised around the key questions that I was requested to cover.
The Citizens’ Assembly has published its report on climate change (Assembly press release here). The report includes the Assembly’s 13 recommendations on ‘how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change’. These were agreed by the Assembly after four days of expert presentations in 2017 and following a major public consultation which received close to 2000 submissions.
The Stop Climate Chaos coalition* is calling on the Government to respect the mandate of the Assembly by immediately establishing a dedicated Oireachtas Committee to take the report’s recommendations forward, as was done with the Assembly report on the eight amendment to the Constitution.
This evidence for the government really doing nothing to mitigate excessive emissions from Transport calls into question its poor provision for every day cycling. Faced with this critique Minister Ross needs to urgently divert funding away from new roads and motorways into cycling infrastructure. Read article
In December 2015, Ireland along with nearly 200 other nations signed up to its commitment to do our full and fair share to ensure carbon emissions are reduced in line with the advice from science so that global warming does not irreversibly destabilise the world’s climate system.
Actions, however, speak far louder than words. As data produced today by the Environment Protection Agency confirm, instead of the required sharp reductions, Irish greenhouse gas emissions instead climbed in 2016, to the equivalent of 61.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the highest level since before the economic crash.
In just the last two years, total national emissions have increased by 7.3% or 4.16 million tonnes of CO₂. Ireland is legally mandated by the EU to reduce national emissions by 20% by 2020. By comparison, Scotland has already achieved its far more ambitious 2020 emissions target cut of 42%, and achieved these five years ahead of target.
“There is no magic involved. The missing ingredient in Ireland is political will and the backbone to stand up to the special pleading of well-funded lobby groups”, according to John Gibbons, An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee spokesperson. He continued “Ireland has among the best average wind speeds in Europe, yet the share of wind energy on the grid actually declined by nearly 2% last year, while there was an overall increase of 3.8% in the emissions intensity of power generation.”
Ireland’s shambolic transport sector has recorded its fourth straight year of emissions growth, adding 3.7%, or nearly half a million tons of additional CO₂ in 2016 versus the previous year. The other price of this failure is ever-worsening traffic gridlock as the excessively car-dependent transport model inevitably leads to congestion, inefficiency and chaos. The ongoing neglect of cycling and public transport is fuelling this national transport debacle.
Agriculture and transport together accounted for almost three quarters of Ireland’s entire EU 2020 target sector non-ETS emissions in 2016. Since 2011 agricultural sector emissions have increased by +10.2%, contrary to the misleading media talking points being recently repeated by agri lobbyists. Last year, agricultural emissions rose by the equivalent of over half a million tonnes of CO₂. This followed a 6.2% increase in dairy cow numbers and a 4% increase in milk production. For 2017, the quantity of nitrogen fertiliser used is already known to be up by 12%, which will push agri-sector emissions even higher than in 2005, the reference year for a 20% ‘Non-ETS’ reduction by 2020.
Dairy and beef production are both highly emissions-intensive, and today’s EPA data proves that the industry spin about ‘efficiency’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ is all just hot air. There is no effective way of reducing Irish agriculture’s massive emissions profile without tackling the root cause of these emissions: ever more, fertiliser-boosted grass fed to ever more cattle results in ever more climate pollution. Controlling beef and dairy emissions requires a production cap or a price on agricultural emissions so that efficiencies can actually be realised.
This underlines the findings of an EU study published in April this year that found Irish agriculture to be the least ‘climate-efficient’ in the entire EU28. Ireland produced the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per euro of agricultural output, the study concluded.
“Governments come and governments go, but CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Increasing agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions greatly increases Ireland’s responsibility for near-term climate warming. The decisions we take and fail to take today will have long-term implications for our children and their children. True sustainability means providing for our needs today without compromising the needs of future generations. Ireland is today stealing from the future, calling it growth and leaving a toxic legacy to all future generations”, according to John Gibbons.
He continued “We as a nation are better than this. The recent Citizens’ Assembly recommendations proved that the Irish public is prepared to back strong action to tackle climate change, but these shocking pollution figures from the EPA show Ireland’s citizens are being shamefully betrayed by its political and business classes for short term gain.”