Citizens’ Assembly: Lack of political will delay low-carbon transition

Published by Niall Sargent on

October 1st, 2017

A lack of political will, resources and policy experts is delaying Ireland’s move to a low-carbon society, the Citizens’ Assembly heard this morning.

Addressing the Assembly during its session on energy efficiency, Paul Kenny of the Tipperary Energy Agency said that we need community heating and community energy across the country.

Citing his work with Tipperary County Council, he said that the public authority has improved its energy performance by over 43 per cent over the last decade and now runs almost exclusively on heat and energy generated from renewables and waste.

He said, however, that communities are generally being excluded from benefiting from the energy transition through policy decisions such as excluding rooftop solar from the proposed renewable energy support scheme.

He said that until people can save money and “make money robustly from the energy transition” they will not engage in it. “I think that’s why they don’t lean on the TDs and that’s why TDs don’t make any decisions to push on with the energy transition because people don’t see the benefit,” he said.

He added that the Department of Climate Action also lacks enough policy experts dealing with the issue of energy efficiency, with only seven principle officers across the entire department.

Solar panels at Seldom Rest Farms Photo: US Department of Agriculture

Speaking about the possible future makeup of Ireland’s energy system, Dr Brian Motherway of the International Energy Agency said that we first have to cut out our fossil fuel imports.

He estimated that within the space of his 20-minute presentation, the State will have spent a quarter of a million euro on importing “other people’s expensive polluting energy” such as Russian gas and oil from the Middle East.

The former CEO of SEAI said that we are “giving our money away” when Ireland has “some of the best clean energy resources you could possibly hope for” in the shape in wind, solar and offshore energy.

He said that the technology is already out there to make a transition to energy efficiency in our homes, however, the Irish state needs “to get the skates on” to catch up with other European countries.

He said that citizens must put the issue on our politicians’’ agendas otherwise it “doesn’t get on their priority list”.

“You can have all the rules in the world and all the climate laws in the world but if politicians and ministers don’t want to prioritise it, it won’t get done,” he said.

Marie Donnelly, Former Director of New and Renewable sources of Energy efficiency at the European Commission, told the Assembly that retrofitting our older housing stock is key to improving overall energy efficiency.

North King Street, Smithfield, Co Dublin Photo: William Murphy

According to Ms Donnelly, almost 90 per cent of our housing stock was built before energy efficiency requirements were introduced.

She said that Ireland sits “at the bottom of the list” for emissions produced per meter square of built houses, mainly owing to our dependence on oil and gas which heats almost 40 per cent of our homes.

The issue is compounded, she said, by the fact that Ireland is “unique in Europe” for subsidising fossil fuel boiler replacements. “It really is an issue that makes Ireland an outlier by comparison to other countries in the EU,” she added.

The second weekend of deliberation will take place in early November to allow full consideration of the issue of climate change, according to the Assembly chair, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.

Following the November meeting, the Assembly will vote on recommendations for Government. The Government must then provide a response to each recommendation. If it accepts a recommendation, it will provide a time frame for the holding of any related referendum.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London