Launch of long-awaited National Mitigation Plan met with heavy criticism

July 20th, 2017

The long-awaited National Mitigation Plan has been met with widespread criticism from environmental organisations and opposition parties for its lack of ambition or meaningful targets.

The Plan, released yesterday, outlines policy measures to tackle Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with EU and international obligations and meet set national policy objectives by 2050.

It sets out 106 distinct actions to be taken by the Government to cut emissions in a range of areas including electricity generation, transport, agriculture, and forestry.

It also calls for stronger oversight and a commitment to the greater integration of climate change into the Government’s Public Spending Code.

Launching the Plan, Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten said that meeting our targets was not just a “vital national interest” but also a “moral necessity”.

While admitting that Ireland is playing “catch-up” on our climate obligations, Mr Naughten said that the Plan sets out a “full range” of measures to reduce our emissions footprint.

“This Plan is the culmination of months of sustained work across Government and represents a first step in our ‘whole-of-Government’ approach to addressing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

The publication of the Plan, however, has been met with strong opposition from environmental NGOs, aid agencies, and various civil society groups.

Friends of the Earth Director, Oisin Coghlan, said that while he would like to welcome the plan, it does not go far enough to “reduce Ireland’s climate-changing pollution”.

Mr Coghlan outlined his concern that the plan does not include an end date for peat burning and coal-fired electricity generation, and the lack of any concrete support for small-scale community solar projects.

“The document is honest about the scale of the challenge we face and our lack of progress so far, but it simply doesn’t commit to enough new actions to reduce pollution,” he said.

He added that the Plan was more an “action promise” than an actual climate action plan, and urged the Taoiseach to follow through on his call a “sustained policy change” backed by state resources.

An Taisce, one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations, said that the plan is “long on aspirations” but falls short on “political leadership, courage or vision”.

While welcoming a handful of measures such as the commitment to a carbon tax, overall, the Plan presents a “smorgasbord of vague, often contradictory, ideas”, a statement from An Taisce said.

In particular, An Taisce took issue with the lack of a clear emissions reduction pathway to 2050, the deferral of making a decision on the future of coal-burning and peat extraction until at least 2019, and a lack of genuine measures to reduce agricultural emissions.

An Taisce also said it was “simply inexcusable” that there is no commitment to offer a feed-in tariff for micro-generators of electricity – domestic homes, small businesses or farmers – to sell clean energy back to the grid.

Stop Climate Chaos (SCC), a coalition of civil society groups campaigning for climate action in Ireland, said that the Plan lacks any “new substantive policies” and only helps cement Ireland’s position as a “climate laggard” in Europe.

SCC member and leading aid agency Trócaire also expressed disappointment at the “low level of ambition” in the Plan, with Executive Director Eamonn Meehan stating that the only real commitments in the Plan are to “more reviews and more reports rather than real action”.

“It is hard to see how this plan will make a dent in the current gap between Ireland’s EU emission reduction targets and current emission projections,” he added.

He stressed the impact of climate change in many of the countries where Trócaire works, highlighting the near 25 million people in urgent need of food aid in east Africa due to drought following consecutive years of poor rains.

“The current crisis shows how vulnerable people are to changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures,” Mr Meehan added.

“The implications for these people of our action – or inaction – on climate change, must be central to an assessment of the adequacy of our ambition as a country.  Sadly, this plan falls far short of ensuring we meet our moral, political and legal obligations.”

Opposition politicians also weighed in with criticism. Social Democrats Co-leader, Róisín Shortall TD, stated that the Plan was an “exercise in wishful thinking” so long as the government refuses to challenge EU fiscal rules for capital spending.

She said that EU rules were a “straight jacket” for Ireland’s climate change ambitions, while also highlighting the “paltry amount” set aside in last week’s Summer Economic Statement for capital investment.

“The key to actually transforming the country to achieve reductions in carbon emissions is substantial investment,” she said. “And the number one blockage is the lack of ambition in the government’s capital plan.”

Ms Shortall added that the Plan is simply a “repackaging of existing commitments”, a sentiment echoed by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD.

Mr Ryan said that he had found “nothing new” in the final Plan, adding that the report has “precious little commitment to direct climate action” and lacks detail as to how the government will meet emissions targets.

“There is a lot of attention as to what the individual citizen might be able to do but no bold plans from the State that will make it easier for everyone to do the right thing,” he added.

He called on the government to set out several concrete actions, including a timeline for phasing out the use of coal and peat for power generation and an increase in spending for cycling and walking infrastructure.

Mr Ryan also called on the government to rule out providing any new oil and gas exploration licenses, mandatory electric vehicle charging points at petrol stations, and a move to ‘continuous cover’ afforestation.

“We have everything to gain by promoting a just transition to a new low carbon economic model and everything to lose if we do not meet this great climate change challenge,” Mr Ryan concluded.

The Climate Change Advisory Council, tasked with reviewing the annual progress of the Plan, acknowledged its importance in “laying the foundation for Ireland to transition to a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable economy” by 2050.

The Council submitted its Periodic Review Report 2017 to the Minister earlier this month. The report is set to be launched on 26 July 2017.

The new Advisory Group on the National Dialogue on Climate Change will also hold its first meeting on 26 July. The group is made up of stakeholders from the business and farming communities, academia, journalism, and civil society and environmental groups.

The National Mitigation Plan is available here:

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