State must tackle climate change with same vigour as Brexit, Committee hears

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 31st, 2018

The Government must approach climate change with the same seriousness as it does with Brexit, the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action heard yesterday.

Speaking at a Committee hearing on Ireland’s progress on tackling climate change, Stop Climate Change representative Oisin Coghlan said that, much like Brexit, the impact from climate change is “only beginning” and will pose “risks to all parts of Irish society” over the coming decades.

He added that we need action now from all sectors of the economy, as well as coordination across all Government departments and political leadership from the Taoiseach.

 “Equally like Brexit, the sooner we act, the more we prepare, the better off we will be, and there could even be opportunities for Ireland in the transition to a climate-safe future,” he added.

Mr Coghlan also told the hearing that the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations on climate change should be “treated with the same seriousness” as its recommendations on the eight amendment.

He also urged the Minister for Climate Action, Denis Naughten, TD to revise the National Mitigation Plan as it is “not fit for purpose” and in light of recent advice from the Climate Change Advisory Council.

Minister Denis Naughten will attend the Council meeting tomorrow Photo: Environment Ireland

Lack of political leadership

Professor John Sweeney told the Committee that Ireland’s policy failures go back much further. He said that policies to reduce emissions over the past three decades have failed to deliver due to a “lack of political leadership and conviction”.

The climate expert said that even with large concessions from Europe, we will still struggle to comply with our 2030 EU target and face large fines in the future.

This is impacting Ireland’s international reputation, he said, adding that we are now seen as the “climate laggard” within the EU.

He warned that if we continue with our current emissions trends we will soon be seen as a “climate vandal” and called on the Committee to “exert intrusive oversight” in this “key strategic” area.

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

Farming Community and Renewables

IFA President Joe Healy told the Committee that farmers can help to deliver on Ireland’s renewable and climate targets, but only with policy clarity and support.

He added that while there is a need to safeguard food production, the likes of farm-scale renewable projects and afforestation mean that farmers can help Ireland to address climate change.

Mr Healy insisted that reductions achieved through natural carbon sinks, such as forests and permanent grassland pastures, must be reflected in agriculture’s overall contribution to emission reductions.

Prof Sweeney, however, said that projected forestry planting rates will not be sufficient to offset agricultural emissions as FoodWise 2025 targets call for an 85 per cent increase in agri-food exports.

He added that carbon efficiency arguments “do not produce absolute emissions reduction” if the herd increases at its current scale, with over one million extra cattle since 2014.

Mr Healy said that the Government should help fund a Climate Activation Programme for the farming sector to include support for scaling up of on-farm emission reduction programmes and re-opening of the Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme.

He also welcomed the Renewable Heat Support Scheme but said it must be properly funded and embedded in the local economy to create new revenue streams for farmers and rural jobs.

He also expressed concern at proposals to rely exclusively on an auction-based pricing model in the proposed Renewable Energy Support Scheme which may push community, roof-top and farmer-led solar projects out of the burgeoning solar energy market.

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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