Taoiseach tells EU he is not proud of Ireland’s role as Europe’s climate ‘laggard’

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 18th, 2018

Ireland is a climate “laggard” and needs to do a lot more to catch up with our European neighbours in tackling climate change, the Taoiseach told the European Parliament this week.

Leo Varadkar gave his frank assessment of Ireland’s climate record following his speech on the future of Europe before the Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

While the Taoiseach’s speech only made passing reference to the issue, he admitted that he was “not proud of Ireland’s performance” on climate change when pressed by Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts.

A member of the Greens–European Free Alliance, Mr Lamberts slated the Irish government for “lacking ambition” to tackle climate change despite our “abundant” renewable energy resources.

He added: “This year Ireland was ranked as Europe’s worst performer in tackling climate change [and] it is one of only two countries in the EU that will miss its EU emissions reductions targets and now your Government seeks special deals and exemptions for quite modest 2030 targets.”

The 2018 Climate Change Performance Index singled out Ireland as the worst performing country in Europe for taking concrete action to tackle climate change. “You said when you became Taoiseach that fighting climate change would be your first priority,” Mr Lamberts said, addressing Mr Varadkar directly. “Yet it doesn’t really show.”

Climate Laggard

In his candid response, the Taoiseach acknowledged that Ireland is falling behind the rest of Europe and gave his commitment to taking greater action. “As far as I am concerned, we are a laggard. I am not proud of Ireland’s performance on climate change,” he said.

Mr Varadkar added that measures to help meet our 2030 emissions targets will be “central” to Ireland’s ten-year capital investment plan set to be published in the coming months.

“That includes things in transport, like electrifying our railways,” he said. “It’s about transitioning our public transport and our bus fleet to low emissions. It’s about electric cars, in particular, where we put in some incentives.

“There are lots of things that we intend to do so that we can meet those targets. And it’s something that I am very committed to, and certainly, my generation of politicians is very committed to.”

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan with Astrid Forsyth (3) at protest over plastic waste outside the Dail, 17 January 2018 Photo: Sorcha McManigan

Policy Coordinator for the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, Jerry Mac Evilly, welcomed the Taoiseach’s “clear statements” acknowledging Ireland’s extremely poor response to climate change. “To have the Taoiseach recognise Ireland’s laggard status and commit to reversing Ireland’s downward spiral in front of EU counterparts is an important step.”

He added, however, that Mr Varadkar’s words must be “backed up by leadership” to ensure that the Government implements lasting policies to “drastically reduce” our emissions.

Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth, said that Taoiseach’s “honesty” on Ireland’s “dire” climate record” was a sign of progress, but echoed the call for “concrete action” now. He called on the Government to listen to the “common-sense proposals” put forward by the Citizens’ Assembly in November to help Ireland catch up with our EU partners and finally lose its unwelcome “climate laggard” moniker.

Waste Reduction Bill

While stating that he was happy with the Taoiseach’s reply during an interview on RTE’s Drivetime yesterday evening, Mr Lamberts did take issue with the Government’s opposition to the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill.

He urged the Taoiseach to support the Bill that would bring Ireland “on a par” with best practice from across Europe. The Bill proposes to ban disposable plastic plates, cups and other types of tableware by 2020, as well as bringing in a deposit and refund scheme for drinks containers.

In countries where a deposit system has been implemented, including the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland, results have been positive with return rates reaching 80 to 95 per cent.

Within Europe, Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year. This is 9kg more than the second worst offender, Luxembourg.

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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