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A Gigantic Challenge

Climate Change presents us with a political challenge as important as Brexit, as demanding as the peace process and as costly as the financial crisis of the past decade.

Ireland has to get greenhouse gas emissions down from 60 million tonnes a year to 33 million tonnes by 2030, and to effectively zero by 2050.

Last year, the Citizen’s Assembly helpfully set out a valuable roadmap of ambitious recommendations (see below) that should be implemented quickly to demonstrate that we take this issue seriously.

I recently hosted public forum on climate change and took these recommendations as a starting reference. I was joined at the event by experts: Prof John Fitzgerald, Irish Times columnist and Chair of the Climate Change Council; Dr Susan Murphy, Chair of Oxfam Ireland and Trinity College Dublin Lecturer; and Cllr Alex White, European Election candidate and former Minister for Energy. The forum was expertly chaired by Dr John Walsh, Trinity College Dublin.

At the Forum, we agreed that a failure to adapt on time to Climate Change will leave a future generation with a dreadful legacy. It is why so many young people now are so vociferous in their proper demand that policies and national budgets be fully adjusted to meet the targets that have been agreed by the Paris Climate Agreement.

The most important action is to drastically reduce the usage and emission of carbon in energy consumption at home and at work, in transport, in industry and, for Ireland especially, in agriculture.

There has been progress. Many industries have switched to renewable energy, many homeowners have invested heavily in insulation, car manufacturers are moving rapidly to bringing electric vehicles to market.

All these measures need to be expanded and accelerated. We need to gear up our public transport systems to switch to renewable energy and to offer a realistic alternative to commuters.

Making changes is never easy, but we can make Ireland’s economy fairer as well as more sustainable. That would be the best gift we can leave for future generations.

Citizens Assembly Recommendations on Climate Change April 2018

  1. To ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making in Ireland, a new or existing independent body should be resourced appropriately.
  2. The State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change through measures, including for example, retrofitting public buildings, having low carbon public vehicles, renewable generation on public buildings and through adaptation measures including for example, increasing the resilience of public land and infrastructure.
  3. 80% of the Members said they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon intensive activities.
  4. The State should examine the vulnerability of all critical infrastructure (including energy, transport, built environment, water and communications) with a view to building resilience to ongoing climate change and extreme weather events.
  5. The State should enable the selling back into the grid of electricity from micro-generation by private citizens.
  6. The State should act to ensure the greatest possible levels of community ownership in all future renewable energy projects.
  7. The State should end all subsidies for peat extraction and instead spend that money on peat bog restoration and making proper provision for the protection of the rights of workers impacted.
  8. The number of bus lanes, cycling lands and park and ride facilities should be greatly increased in the next five years.
  9. The State should immediately take many steps to support the transition to electric vehicles.
  10. The State should prioritise the expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure spending at a ratio of no less than 2-to-1.
  11. There should be tax on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture. There should be rewards for the farmer for land management that sequesters carbon. Any insulating revenue should be reinvested to support climate friendly agricultural practices.
  12. The State should introduce a standard form of mandatory measurement and reporting of food waste at every level of the food distribution and supply chain.
  13. The State should review, and revise supports for land use diversification with attention to supports for planting forests and encouraging organic farming.